Skip to main content

Full text of "1OCT1993 revised edition"

See other formats


1OCT1993

by Stanley Lieber

Written 2004-2010

This book was typeset (troff -ms|lp -dstdout|ps2pdf) in Times by the
author, using an IBM Thinkpad T43p running the Plan 9 operating system.

Reprinted with corrections, October 2012

1OCT1993
1oct1993.com

MASSIVE FICTIONS
massivefictions.com

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either
are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and
any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies,
events or locales is entirely coincidental.

MIT/CC0/Public Domain

1OCT1993

BOOK ONE

TAB2, 1960

tags: 1960, margaret, tab1, tab2, the_chief

The testing was rigorous but fair. I don't know if the equipment had
any real effect, but he started talking just the same.

bump bump bump clickity clickity click bump bump bump

Little Tommy.

"Semen the color of old comic book pages, aged plastic, tape residue,
dipping sauce for crayons that were flattened for a specific age
group. You know, so they wouldn't roll away­the crayons, not the age
group. Dog piss on the carpet, striped wallpaper, a tray of stale flat
bread, a portfolio of chalk drawings."

"What else do you remember?"

"The weather. Nothing."

"Let's start over from the beginning."

Aptitude tests. Memory. So far, things were progressing smoothly. I
actually choked back a tear. I admit it: I was proud of him.

"Son, have you figured out what's going on yet?"

"A severed, pierced penis. In a can of Prince Albert pipe tobacco.
Title: Not Funny."

I wrote TAB2 on the inside of his hat and placed it on his head.

"Let's get the hell out of here."

Tommy hated the matching outfits. Orange toboggan hat, bomber jacket,
military galoshes. I had told him to think of it as his uniform. He
scratched at his buzzcut, dumbly.

I hoisted him into his car seat.

Winter had struck while the other boys were studying. Permafrost,
monochrome landscape. I had Tommy out and about in the elements every
day; we covered four miles, on average, pacing the farmer's market
near headquarters. He was already beating up on the older boys in the
class ahead of him.

Or so I had forecast, when I set him on this routine.

Reality didn't quite track. Tommy wasn't meeting his PT requirements.
I began scrubbing his face with an abrasive washcloth and doubled his
training hours.

"Father, who do I have to blow around here to get a time sheet?"

"You'll be done when I say you're done."

The kid's mother.

I cleared my cache and ducked into a flower shop, dragging Tommy
behind me. He planted himself on the floor and booted up a comic book.
I should never have bought him that thing.

"The usual?"

We came in here at least twice a week.

"Affirmative. Red."

I jammed the bundle of roses under my arm and yanked Tommy along to
the truck. I thought he might have voiced a slight whimper, but I
couldn't be sure so I ignored it.

The mesh was offline in the truck. I punched the dashboard and Tommy
let out a laugh. Finally, the HUD activated and we peeled out of the
parking lot.

I was thirty-three years old.

So far, 1960 was diminishing returns.

CU/FARLEY

tags: 1960, margaret, tab1, tab2, the_chief

1 October 1960 I loaded Tommy into the truck and took him to work with
me.

The boy perked up at the sight of the two-story displays. A damn sight
better than the consumer grade equipment his mother used to review her
nude home shows. We had a spare terminal so I logged him in with basic
access and let him handle analysis on some of the non-essential
traffic. No one would mind. With his orange cap he almost fit in.

Perturbations in the mesh. We were bringing a new series of embassy
clouds online and things were not going smoothly. I was asked to
supervise a side-switch.

At 07:30 Tommy spoke up, something about overlap.

"Pop, we've got incoming."

Three embassies were competing for the same channel. Ping errors were
filling up the logs. I asked Tommy if he had a solution.

"Subnet them."

My men went into action and the crisis was averted.

Chief gave Tommy a lollipop.

Tommy liked the snow but touching his hand to it produced tears. I
growled at him a bit.

I gassed up the truck and we cut across town back to the hovel. We had
opened a new file on Tommy. CU/FARLEY would follow him for the rest of
his life. He'd shown aptitude. All of that testing wasn't a waste
after all. His mother would grumble but his interest was clear,
honest. We assigned him TAB2 and that was that.

Inside the house I prepared a plate of sandwiches and pickles and we
settled in to monitor the logs. Again Tommy showed initiative and
reorganized his own desktop for efficiency. I dozed off for a while
and when I came to he'd routed the embassy logs through his login. He
picked out some trouble spots and saved the boys back at HQ a few
hours of grief. I considered pulling him out of school for a few
months until the embassies were all up and running. Heh, not likely,
not with his mother.

Flipped on the telescreen. Presidential election. Iran.

Can't escape it. Switched off the telescreen and back to Tommy's
progress, trawling the logs. I showed him how to clean up a few
streams and within a few minutes he was giving me advice on my own
data structures. I wondered how long this could hold his attention.

At 10:25 a page came over the wire, calling me back to HQ. I strapped
Tommy into his seat and we were on our way.

The truck spun through the slush and we got hung up in the parking
lot. I left the vehicle and trudged towards the building with Tommy in
tow; housekeeping would dig out the truck as time permitted.

We made it up the stairs and Chief stopped us before we got to our
terminals. CU/FARLEY was already twenty pages thick. They had decided
to call in their investment early. I slicked down Tommy's eyebrows
with my thumb and handed him over.

My son and I locked eyes. Tommy full of comprehension.

He reached up to his head and removed his orange toboggan. He glanced
at the name I'd scrawled inside it, TAB2, and then passed it over to
me, his three-year-old arms not quite bridging the gap between us.

I nodded. I understood.

TOWARDS MYTHOLOGIZING
THE COMING RESURGENCE OF COVERT WARFARE

tags: 1961, coordinator_rex, tab1, tab2

DIPLOMATIC POUCH MAIL
(SB:WR-U; 10-17-1961)
(Office of Origin: BT/FUCK)

Son, you said you wanted to know what I do all day at my job. That is,
since we've been separated and you've been off at school. To that end,
I've written up this account based on notes I took sometime last week.
I traveled from New York to New San Francisco to take part in one of
the operations assigned to my group.

Here is my description of what took place.

Faint smoke wafted out of nearby chimneys. Awkward-looking clouds
clung to the sky, a gross of cotton balls scattered at random, then
glued down carelessly onto an enormous blue shirt. I observed the
aerial tableaux through a crack in the curtains. My hotel room was
cold.

Shifting focus, I came to notice the ground directly below my window.
It offered up only the faintest suggestion of tangibility. Its
contours were blunted by yet another layer of new fallen snow.
Bemused, I traced the deceptive topology at high resolution, scanning
the area for markers before proceeding to vacate for the last time.

I made my way out onto the balcony. Even as my room's heavy wooden
door clicked shut behind me, I instinctively checked my pocket for the
plastic key card.

It was present.

Coat tucked and breath stale, I tunneled through the mounting drifts,
trudging towards the front office. I swiped my key card and slipped
inside. The night clerk had dozed off, abandoning the assortment of
RAP CHOWDER clips he had pulled up on his terminal. He was probably
inebriated. Stealthily, I snuck past him.

Moving down the hall, I edged past a throng of blinking, chattering
vending machines. My trench coat trailed along behind me, probably, I
thought, getting dirty. I bustled once more into the laundry room,
tossed my knapsack down on a table and placed my hat on the dryer.

Laundry was done.

After stowing my garments, I dropped my room card on the front desk
and called for a taxi. Yawning, I leaned up against a support column
and strained to hear the closing salvos of the RAP CHOWDER season
finale. It seemed I had not alerted the night clerk to my presence.
That suited the situation fine, as my taxi would not show up for some
time and I was in no mood for small talk.

An hour later I detected the heat signature of a car engine and then
the slush of tires racing through black snow. It was my ride.

The taxi driver wasted no time and engaged his car horn, initiating a
blast of sharp, targeted audio. Modus operandi endemic to the American
service industry: never in a hundred consecutive life sentences would
he have thought to come into the hotel and fetch me. Remind me
sometime to tell you about Hanoi, and the driver who actually did.

I tossed my knapsack over my shoulder and hopped into the cab. The
driver was a tough looking Arab, equipped with the usual rough shaven
beard and a giant, furry parka. He had a three-dollar cigar clenched
tightly between his brown teeth. As he spun the orange cab out of a
snow bank, I leaned back into my seat with a sense of detached
curiosity. The Motel 6's automation was apparently inoperable; I
checked my balance and discovered that I hadn't even tipped the desk
clerk on my way out.

The driver propelled us across the bridge and on to JFK, where
eventually he halted the cab and told me to get out. I tossed him a
single hundred dollar bill and he affected only the slightest nod
towards the meter. I didn't budge, so he gave me the finger, then sped
off into the freezing smog. I had to laugh.

Soon, I was aboard my plane.

Floating safely above America, I rang for my stewardess. She brought
out some coffee and loaded it up with a fair amount of cream.
Somewhere over St. Louis, I was enjoying a fifty-dollar cup of
Folger's Crystals. Unlike most passengers, I didn't fall for their
upselling to a more rarefied blend­I know from bitter experience that
no matter what you order, on a government airplane you end up drinking
the same cup of coffee. It still befuddles me that no one ever seems
to notice this. Menus are nothing more than a racket they try to put
over on unsuspecting consumers. What you actually get is whatever they
have too much of on a given day. Anyway, a cup of coffee is a cup of
coffee.

Finally, we approached New San Francisco. Tires screeched across the
runway. Air pressure in the cabin shifted to sea level. Presently, a
voice came over the intercom, announcing our impending arrival. I
gazed at the surface of my leaf, pretending to read a newspaper
article. Shrewdly, I had opted not to activate the pay-device.

"At the tone, all passengers will unbuckle their seat-belts and
disembark in an orderly fashion."

There was an almost deafening racket of clacks and clatters.

"Once again, thank you for flying Federal Airlines."

"Like we had a choice," came a muffled retort from several rows back.

A number of heads from various sections of the plane snapped around to
face the speaker, all of them in perfect synchronization. Immediately,
I ascertained which of my fellow passengers were Air Marshals.

I returned my leaf to the seat-back in front of me, then reached up
into the compartment above my head to withdraw my bags. Nothing seemed
to be missing.

Exiting the plane, I was forced to elbow a few tourists out of my way.
Nothing too unusual; a young Pioneer Scout had nearly caused me to
trip and fall. Children were everywhere in coach, clogging up the
isles with their sluggish movements. This would not have been a
problem if I'd taken a seat in first class, where children are
generally forbidden, but such an expenditure would have raised flags
with the wrong people, and on this flight I was concerned with keeping
things­as far as those wrong people were concerned, anyway­quiet.
Friendly shoving had become commonplace during the average disembark,
and so my excess physicality went unnoticed.

On the way into the terminal I passed through a metal detector. My
sidearm triggered a shrill cacophony, followed by an array of hastily
drawn weapons. I flashed my TSA card discreetly, at waist level, and
got through the checkpoint without much hassle. As you know, with my
credentials I am authorized to carry a concealed firearm. I can
activate its logging processes mid-flight, or even pull it out and
wave it around if I so desire. In this way it would have been trivial
for me to clear a path through the crowd by sending everyone diving to
the floor. I don't need to tell you that I restrained myself. Even
with non-networked weaponry such as my own, flashing a gun would have
attracted attention from the mesh.

I wandered into a nearby pay-zone and called for another cab. My
long-range implant was by now producing only blips and bleeps. For
some reason, disabled.

My experience with that last cab driver in New York had put me on
edge. I recalled now that when I climbed into his vehicle he had
shifted his eyes instantly to my left earlobe, pausing for a bit
longer than I would have liked. He was careful, also, to look me up
and down several times, tracing all of the obvious marker points. I
noticed even though he had really been quite subtle about it. To my
mind, this was uncommon and suspicious behavior for a New York cab
driver. I found myself considering the implications. Something might
be going on with the cabbie unions here in the States. Warily, I
loaded my Colt and stuffed it into the cargo pocket of my trousers.

When my taxi finally arrived I slid into the back seat and gave the
driver a once-over of my own. Ditto. The same type as in New York. An
immigrant. Although this fellow, rather than expose his bushy eyebrows
and lice-infested hair to the world, sported a grey taxi cap with a
dark, translucent visor. He was chomping a duty-free cigar (unlit) and
taking sips from a can of Stro's Light. From the looks of him, a
Russian educated Paki.

Before shifting the car into gear, the cabbie pivoted around in his
torn seat. With no small effort, he stuck out his free hand, then
moved his eyes back to me. Sensing the inherent purpose of the
gesture, I pushed a fifty towards him, extending it just far enough to
catch in the tips of his fat fingers, then settled the rest of the way
back into my seat. The driver remained motionless, silent. His seat
creaked under the weight of his body.

"Take me to the Embassy," I growled as harshly as I could muster,"And
put some stank on it. I have an appointment to keep."

With a squeal of tires and a strangled burst of exhaust smoke, we were
off.

After a short interval we careened to a stop in front of the Embassy.
I evacuated the back seat and leaned into the taxi's front window,
glaring at the driver, adopting an aggressive posture. In response,
the Paki clenched my collar into his fist and pulled me in even
closer. It seemed he wanted to share a few words.

About time.

"Meter say five hundred and fifty, stupid fart."

He spit out his cigar, which came to rest lightly on the floor.

My cue.

I rammed the barrel of my Colt into his throat. He recoiled against
the seat with a muffled thud, spilling beer all over his lap. I then
gripped him by the hair and smashed his head into the dashboard,
smirking bemusedly because his forehead had just taken out the meter,
and because his pants were now soaking wet as if he'd burst his
bladder. He fumbled groggily in his seat and steered his cab the hell
out of there. I wouldn't have believed it, but the cabbie trade had
actually grown more belligerent in my absence. As a corollary, I'd
just saved the government five hundred bucks. You have to stay sharp
on the basics.

I stomped up the stairs of the Embassy and kicked open the door, which
hadn't been latched to begin with. Gradually, I got myself into
character.

The place was fossilized as ever. All of the antiques, artifacts and
arch-politicos were still glued into place, practically inert. The
room was artificially quiet, which also conformed to my mental
inventory from previous visits. All right then, noise-cancelers were
still being employed. What was new, here, was that the place had
apparently been outfitted as a nano-blank zone. I wondered why.

Good thing I had thought to pack my Colt and not bothered with the
network weaponry.

Without warning, a butler sidled up to me, whispering that he wanted
to take my coat. I kicked him out of the way. He tumbled into a chair,
looking dumb. I decided to ham it up in my new role and barked at him
that I hated being touched by the help. He muttered something and I
made a show of ignoring him as I pushed on into the long central
corridor.

Quickly locating the correct cube cluster, I burst into the
Coordinator's office and dropped down onto his horsehair sofa. His
eyes moved to meet with my own and then just as casually returned to
his pressure screen. I remained silent. After a few minutes passed, he
realized that it would be up to him to initiate the conversation.

"I'm sure you are aware," he finally said, agitated but monotone in
his murmur,"That this sudden reappearance of yours will make certain
impending maneuvers more... awkward... for my department. I will have
to make up another acceptable room for you here in the embassy, and
re-issue your cash and supply requisitions." He wiped his forehead,
the pitch of his voice lowering steadily as he continued to speak,
resembling nothing so much as the air being let out of a bicycle tire.
"I'll also have to find a way to pay for all of this, since you are
still officially off of my books."

Well, that didn't seem like much of an obstacle to me. I was a
diplomat and this was his embassy. I was sure he could come up with
something. Run the standard algorithm of embassy lawyers, numerous
layers of complex accounting, and a few million dollars out of the
discretionary fund. Throw in a gaggle of highly trained Georgian
prostitutes and no one would ever be the wiser. This was, after all,
his area of expertise.

Why not just write it up as a series of business lunches, I thought to
myself.

But I chose not to say any of that out loud. Instead, I sat
motionless, staring, thinking about Iran and 1959, wondering why I'd
bothered to haul his perforated ass back home with me. He must have
guessed what I was flashing on, because he quickly dropped the
pretense of busting my balls and cut straight to the conclusion of his
prepared speech. He hated going through the motions as much as I did.

"Okay. I give in," he mouthed, the vitriol now suspiciously absent
from his voice. He had put up his token resistance, which for the
purposes of budgetary documentation would have to suffice. He tossed
me my pass and all of the needed cards, already made out and
validated, packed into a large manila envelope. He held it out with
one hand, not looking away from whatever it was he was scribbling,
somewhat erratically, into his leaf. I had never known he was
ambidextrous.

"Tom," he said to me as I left the room,"Let's not botch this up, not
like the last time I had to rely on you. You know what I'm talking
about."

The wisecrack was wholly unnecessary.

I halted. I wanted to launch into him, but quickly reversed myself and
resolved to just let him have his insults.

Son, at this point the man is little more than a torso. His titanium
legs are encased in medical plastic, but that hardly represents a
cosmetic improvement. Below the elbows, his arms are tracked with skin
grafts, and must be covered up by shirtsleeves even in summer. True,
the substrate now conceals more firepower than I could ever hope to
lift with my merely human-gauge limbs, but technically he was correct.
During the war, I'd botched the rescue attempt that had made all of
his"improvements" necessary. After all, he'd still possessed both of
his legs when we were dispatched to Tehran. For this, I do carry some
measure of responsibility.

Turning again, I looked down at the manila envelope and said nothing.
I closed his office door gently on my way out.

As I hoofed it down the south corridor, I fished through my envelope
of cards, digging out the one that would open my room. It stated: Room
1097, Tenth Floor, Second Hall. I pocketed the room key and made my
way toward the central security elevator, arriving just in time to
glimpse the doors snapping shut.

I located the stairwell.

With little effort I advanced to the tenth floor. Swiping my key card,
I pushed the security door open and proceeded into the hallway.

As I reached the door of my actual room, I fished out the card again
and shoved it into its slot. The whole door frame quivered as I ambled
inside. This place was antique, but I didn't mind the clumsy old
mechanisms, in spite of what my diplomatic status might have entitled
me to. I wouldn't end up using all of that new equipment anyway.

I suppose the room itself was quite impressive, by conventional
standards. A hot tub was situated, or sunk into, really, the middle of
the floor, equipped with its own bar. The carpet was some sort of deep
white pile. I don't know, but it looked expensive. Cathedral windows
with variable display angles. Universal remote. The furniture was a
posh mixture of vintage and the very latest in network enabled. I
waved my hand in front of the couch and seats around the room
reconfigured themselves to my pre-loaded, custom contour. A few more
gestures and my temperature/humidity preferences were transferred to
the local mesh.

I have not devoted much of my attention over the years to the ins and
outs of fully-integrated interior design, but I can tell you that this
wasn't the work of amateurs. I wasn't able to locate a single bug.
Good for them. There's no telling what kind of footage this room has
been able to capture, during the periods between wars when it has been
used to house foreign dignitaries.

I'm afraid my reputation preceded me here and I did not expect many
frivolous trifles, but, still, a few of the line items from my
standard rider were missing­and remain missing, above my
complaints­which continues to annoy.

Well, that's about all I have time for right now. I have quite a bit
of work to do before I can turn in for the night. You know I'm not
much of a writer, but I hope this has given you some idea of what an
average day of mine is like here at the embassy.

Hope to see you soon.

ADVANCE

tags: 1963, margaret, tab1, tab2, the_chief, violet

All told, it was three years until I saw him again. Draped in
something reflective, outfitted for stresspants.

He appraised me, amused.

"I don't suppose you objected too strenuously, when they told you what
it was they planned to do to me."

Six years old. Circumcised. Ready to start public school.

"Son, I've been doing my best to provide for your future. You're
getting the best education tax dollars can buy."

"Prove it, Dad. They cut off my stick."

By 1963, the war had started.

"They didn't cut it off. They've trimmed back the excess skin.
Hygienic benefits. Read up on your New Jack Testament. It's part of
the package."

I'll admit, the family tended to shunt Tommy aside. We had shelled
into advanced operations and were channeling most of our attention to
the tactical situation above ground. Probably some things slipped by
unnoticed.

"Nobody ever asked what I wanted."

Maybe I should have sent him back to his mother. He seemed more
attuned to her.

"Irrelevant. You're not old enough to have an opinion on this. Here,
hop on up here. Help me parse these filter rules. We have incoming."

"You old fuss budget!"

My daughter.

"Why don't you give him a break. He's been studying all summer."

"This wasn't strictly my decision, Violet."

"Lies! You're the ranking officer now."

"He's going to learn a lot more by observing us here than he would
diddling with you and your mother back at home. Praying. Whatever it
is you do."

"You're wearing him out."

"It's part of the training. He'll endure."

"Well, gee. I would advise that you get yourself a good lawyer.
Tommy's peer group is quite litigious. See you never."

Violet slammed a lot of doors, that year.

The dream was this:

My wife, my sister and Violet wandering through HQ. Someone I don't
remember from high school walking up and smearing grease paint on my
face, saying"Don't you remember me?"

My wife, my sister and Violet walking through someone's house as a
shortcut. The women stop to pick through the occupants' belongings. I
advise them not to continue but they've become unresponsive. The
occupants of the hovel wake up and sound the alert for their extended
family, who appear from out of nowhere and accost us.

Hometown Security arrives with shock troops and we are all separated
and detained. I am interrogated by Jeff from CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM.

By 1963 I had quit smoking, but still I made routine trips to the
balcony to clear my head and to stare at the snow. There's no telling
what my handlers thought of this. Ten below zero and there I was, out
there in my shirtsleeves.

Well, fuck'em.

I was close. Ten more months and the agency would have recouped on my
advance. Then I could start in on the mortgage. Savings. Things would
start to look up.

Mostly.

Tommy was still a worry. Soon they'd want to draft him.

I wasn't sure he was ready.

MEN OF VISION

tags: 1963, margaret, plinth_mold, tab1, tab2, william

The bombs are still falling when they outfit me with this stupid,
spamming hat and instruct me to cart around young cousin William, the
other male child on the premises, so that he might bask in the
unfiltered sunshine, breathe in the unfiltered air, be exposed,
finally, to the city above ground. This isn't posed as an elective
course of action; I'm given formal orders and nudged in the direction
of the outer doors.

I tell them I don't see as how it's a good idea­what with the
declining birthrates, the continuously falling bombs, the constant
danger of disfigurement and death­but I might as well be set on mute
when it comes to registering above the din of the war room. My
thoughts are not considered.

Children, creatures endowed with no special mastery over the evolved
traditions of warfare, are expected to find their own way, to get in
where they fit in, to drive unique footholds into the imposing,
existential mountain dubbed survival. Honestly, I've never considered
this state of affairs to be a cause for concern. I've never shied away
from a difficult climb. Have preferred, in fact, to traverse peaks of
despair, regarding them as nothing more than simple clumps of grass
gathered at my feet. The one permanent handicap I've endured is this
responsibility to my cousin, William, who is so young, who cannot even
fend for himself. Others of his age are expected to survive by dint of
their own industriousness. William, for his part, is basically
immobile. Self-sufficiency has been altogether ruled out.

The war effort consumes most of the adults' attention. Slowly, William
and I have been pushed from one room to another, down long hallways
and through half-open doorways, with barely any recognition paid to
how we are being treated. No one includes us or keeps much track of us
now that the fighting has percolated into the city. With new air
strikes arriving daily we are the least of the adults' concerns.

I work with what I am given.

It is in these streets that I have learned my trade, have begun to
earn my keep. I've developed an affinity for commerce­an aptitude, you
might say­and happily contribute a percentage of my earnings back into
the household. Apparently, I am a natural born hustler. So says my
uncle. It has come to the point where I'm afraid the adults will
finally realize their neglect. It is conceivable that they may even
forbid us, William and myself, to leave the compound on our own. This
would negatively impact revenues, which would be unacceptable. It
would also harm our family's standing in the community, which would be
equally unacceptable. My products are in high demand. It is with a
constant awareness of this precarious balance that I, over these past
few months, have striven to make the skills of the street my own. I
have adapted myself to its unsteady rhythms, mastered its sundry
particulars, balanced weight through the hood until my various
criminal activities have become as second nature to me, a collection
of reflexive actions as simple as walking into the kitchen or emptying
my bladder. This sympathy with the tidal nature of currency is hard
won, but it allows me to function freely, wholly invisible to the
financial surveillance algorithms employed by HQ. I should say,
invisible so long as I remember to hold back that reasonable
percentage for the family. It is true, my triple-a reputation would
quickly dissolve into scandal if ever I became so sloppy as to arouse
the interest of my father's men. Let us observe, then, that my
operations have never attracted their attention.

Add to my already formidable grip the legitimate pay from William's
promenades, and I'm already better than halfway to my new shield
jacket. I count it as a demonstration of my utility that I'm able to
provide my own armor. A new shield jacket would doubtless preserve me
through countless future crises (that is to say, if I'm not found
skewered by shrapnel before the thing is even delivered). Thus I have
concluded that even my supposedly lamentable character traits (such as
my unquestioning greed) may, at last, be construed as facets of pious
virtue. Until I am allowed to participate in weapons training, I will
content myself with the paper chase. I will gild the runway. Keeping
William and myself alive is merely the start of what I hope to
accomplish.

I assume that Mother and Father are cognizant of all this, to some
degree. In my view, this whole bang-up­the war­is simply an excuse to
seek out and extract ever larger sums of money from the tax base. The
whole conflagration merely serves to increase trade, which serves to
increase tax revenues, which results in more war. Fortunately for me,
the family doesn't seem too keen on auditing my activities. The fact
that my relatives' economic interests are currently seen to overlap
with my own is a kind of happy accident, perhaps of the sort depicted
in children's cinema, or in certain of the ancient, sequentially
illustrated pamphlets collected by my father. In reality, my family's
enlightened self-interest drives a free exchange of goods and
services, a marketplace that in turn benefits the entire community. My
own present activities, in spite of the myopic moral objections
offered by my sister, contribute to this aggregate effect. Taxes (and
thus, war) are merely inevitable. Yes, I've done some reading on the
topic. I readily admit. But the ideas I've argued with Father stand on
their own, heedless of any pseudo-intellectual hem-hawing. I dare say
that they are self-evident. If only I could get him to understand:
even in wartime, altruism is beside the point.

The kid in the cart doesn't realize I'm only in it for the money. He
digs his fingernails into the palm of my hand, obviously frightened by
the noises on the street. We round a corner and a rather large
building comes apart right in front of us. He buries his face into my
coat just as we're pelted with a boiling shock wave of dust. For some
reason he looks to me for protection. Of course, this toddler's
intellect is incapable of assessing the true complexity of our
situation­he's not yet up to the task of cynical apprehension­but
perhaps in the end he is right to place his faith in me. It is
unquestionably within the realm of my interests to ensure that he
survives these trips to the surface. The profit motive is clear. It's
right there in my contract.

I pause to reflect on the brilliant symmetry of our arrangement and it
dazzles me all over again. I cannot help but marvel as I trace its
subtle mechanism: William survives; I profit.

I strive to gather my thoughts.

The dizzying effect persists, even as large sheets of smart glass are
de-integrating everywhere around us. A rapture similar to my own seems
to have overtaken William. I am enthralled as he adopts a distant,
distracted gaze, his jaw falling slack almost against his shirt. He is
serene now in his repose, more contented than either of us have any
right to be, given the circumstances.

I believe that my hand, which he continues to grip quite tightly, is
starting to bleed onto my trousers.

Torn from my reverie, I reply with a gentle squeeze, communicating to
William that we are going to be all right. I guide his chair across
the street, away from the perambulating dust cloud that by now has
puffed up its chest to encompass half of the block. If the trailing
wisps of this mess are not to gum up the works of William's chair,
we'll need to find our way into a shop or an office or a foyer rather
quickly.

Adults are hurling themselves to an fro, generally kicking up more
commotion than is warranted by the simple demolition of a midtown
office building. I reign in young master William and tether him to a
banister, then set off to fetch an adult. In short order I'm
breast-stroking through a sea of white lab coats. It is clear to me
now that we've ended up in some sort of medical clinic.

It takes only a moment to evaluate the new surroundings, and I remain
lucid enough not to dust myself off before approaching one of the
nurses. That would be tantamount to chucking one of my tools into the
trash.

"There's just no end to it," I hear one of the doctors remark,
circumnavigating the perimeter of a nearby cubicle. His voice is
filled with work-a-day resignation. I rotate my body to face him so
that I might appraise him visually.

Half a second passes. His profile fits, so I launch myself
purposefully in his direction. I'm going to try to smear hand prints
onto his coat before he has a chance to form a dispassionate
impression of me. Once I've struck, he'll be forced to take in my
appearance, to consider my circumstances. The ploy is guaranteed to
work, given his type.

"This spamming war just goes on and on."

His remark is sympathetic in nature. I take his words as an obvious
cue to redouble my approach velocity, step fully into the field of his
vision and wipe my arms across his chest, submitting my filthy
clothing and runny nose for his inspection.

"Excuse me, sir, might I inquire as to what it is that has just taken
place, out on the street?"

I let the question hang there, resonating in the stale clinic air. I'm
play-acting now as if I'm stupid, asking after that which I'm clearly
not equipped to understand. He buys into this mailbox full of spam
because I'm merely a child, seven years of age, and therefore,
self-evidently, not yet sophisticated enough to mount a motivated
deception.

Oh, the folly of experience.

I tilt towards him perceptibly, making sure he takes notice of my
garb. His eyes fall upon me in silence and then there is a gap of some
seconds before I finally detect a twinkle in the center of his
mechanical eye. At last, he's picked up on it. He's located the
transceiver. He's got a make on my ID.

This, of course, changes everything. His demeanor, not thirty seconds
ago the sort of bemused half-attention one pays to a poverty-stricken
child, is now replaced with that of a Green hobo ready to snatch a
million dollar bill from the Church collection plate. I am well
acquainted with this shift in disposition, immediately recognize his
"tell," and so may now reflect that my gambit is almost certainly
working.

"Well, hello there, young fellow!"

He dings my helmet.

"You see, recently, some bad men have taken it upon themselves to
provide our city's skyline with a series of aesthetic improvements.
You may learn in school, in the coming years, about a social
interaction often referred to­referred to in the literature, that
is­as politically motivated violence. Or, for short, PMV."

"Splendid and fascinating!" I exclaim, masking a considerable amount
of mental activity with a merely adequate portrayal of child-like
wonder.

Allow me to explain. Throughout the preceding scene my mind has been
occupied, simultaneously, on three fronts: affecting to extract
details of the bombing attack without also giving away my real aim;
shuffling through numerous possible non sequiturs with which to
counter his inane stammering, none of which must come across as
excessively practiced lest I inadvertently alert him to the fact that
I'm on the grift; and, to complicate matters, keeping an eye on what's
going on around us in the office, paying particular attention to my
physical location relative to all possible exits. It has only been in
situations like this that I have, after so many years, felt well and
truly engaged with the world. A fickle melancholy now descends over
me, and I resist the urge to withdraw, to run outside, to find myself
peering over the railing and thoughtfully evacuating my stomach.
Characteristically, I maintain my hold on the situation. I press on.

The doctor, for his part, sinks into a portrait of exquisite
confusion.

"Say, son, what are you two doing in my clinic?"

William's chair is knocking back and forth, gently, blissfully unaware
of the limits set by my tether. I turn my eyes back to the doctor very
slowly, straightening my posture and raising my voice.

"Sir, I was carting around my little brother here when the building at
25765 St. Aecstopher's Cross did fall down nearly on top of us. I'm
afraid I have sustained some sort of injury, as my arm seems to have
gone missing."

I do the trick with my shoulder, slipping my arm, and he gasps as it
re-appears in my sleeve. Absentmindedly, I look down and say,"Oh,
there it is."

He fails to laugh. Instead, he puts in a respectable effort to wrinkle
his eyebrows, to grow more visibly concerned. Privately, I want to be
disappointed with this reaction, to ask him if somehow the humor
hasn't translated, but I will not break character over a single flat
joke.

Now, this fellow knows when he smells a five-star dinner. He's
recognized which house we're from. Dad's pressure screen is probably
glowing red even as we commence negotiations. I think I can actually
feel the chips twitching in my wrist and neck, as both regions are
crying out to be scratched. Or maybe it's just my allergies.

Without warning, something seems to click into place in the doctor's
head. He lunges towards me.

Almost before I can unlatch William, the man's taken me up into his
arms, ferrying me into an examination room. He unloads me gently onto
a table and smooths me onto its stiff, white paper. A microwave sweep
to stem the spread of various bacteria. It will be interesting to
learn which perilous­though certainly, at this clinic,
treatable­ailment he has diagnosed me with, now that he realizes I've
membership in a truly superlative insurance program. That's when he
notices my eyes.

"Son­" His own eyes get stuck gliding over William's gilded chair.
"Son, are you... blind?"

"Of course I'm blind, you jack-ass!"

Okay, here I will admit that I've broken character and degenerated
into an emotional outburst. I wrench my face back into a pathetic sulk
and twitch only once, trying to restore equilibrium. I remind myself
to act my age. Let him guide the scene.

"How long have you been wandering the streets out there, without being
able to see where you're going?"

An easy one.

"It's never really been an issue. I mean, I seem to know my way around
the neighborhood pretty well. Everyone here knows me. And
twenty-twenty vision isn't a panacea against belly-flopping
architecture, as I think was proved out there today."

"Hm. I suppose it was. I admit, you do seem capable. But still,
blindness is a serious complaint for one who spends so much time
outdoors. I would imagine it's also quite demoralizing, when your
obstructed vision is rated against that of your peers, wouldn't you
agree?"

Like I said, I'm a million dollar bill lying face-up on the sidewalk.

Presently, he claps me into another chair, this one missing the
sanitary strip of paper, and begins attaching things to my face. I
open my mouth to try another approach but he simply reaches down and
plugs it with a wad of medical gauze. I suppose we'll have to continue
our discussion once he's finished tinkering with my eyes.

He's a few hours getting on with it, and so by the time he's taken
down my numbers and confirmed them multiple times against his network
queries, William and I are left to amble along home. Once again I have
to point out: here we are, children, alone on the streets after dark,
where a war is still being waged. (Admittedly, the firing usually
stops when the sun goes down.) Sure, plug me into a machine to fix my
eyes, and then send me right back out into the war zone. What was the
point? I could just as easily have enjoyed this kind of treatment from
the boys back at HQ. In any case, I have now been outfitted with an
outlandish plastic headband. It encircles the top half of my face and
displays a pleasant array of colored shapes, monochrome to onlookers
and passers-by. Aside from the cosmetic effects, my vision seems
unchanged.

We exit the clinic without having gathered any useful intelligence.
Ditto for the tally of unburdened currency we have to show for our
trouble. No doubt this will have been a complete waste of an
afternoon, distinguished only by the irritation of a needless medical
procedure. I've wasted a lot of time that could have been devoted to
shoring up my grip. William looks up at me, visibly disappointed.

At an intersection, I am surprised to note that I can now see things I
have never been able to see before.

In some ways it is confusing, this trying to peer between the fat
cubes of light that gyrate before my eyes. At first I am not quite
sure how to adjust, even as I attempt to keep walking. Slowly the
input begins to make sense; to help, rather than hinder, my
navigation.

On balance, I will say that there is much to recommend in these
additional streams of information, all dancing betwixt each other and
pouring unstoppably into my face. The interface is intuitive,
hands-free. I can see where such a device could be considered useful.
I'm even getting telemetry now from HQ. What has this motherspamming
optometrist done to me?

I seem to have gotten quite a ways down the street on my own. I've
inadvertently left William back at the intersection, his chair bobbing
in sync with the traffic. When I return to his side I see that he has
pulled out his knapsack and begun to tear off little strips of paper,
creasing them into slim, rectangular folds that bear a striking
resemblance to illegal tobacco cigarettes. He offers one to me and I
accept, gripping it between my second and third fingers, leaning back
against the enormous smart glass windows of the FIRST MULTINATIONAL
BANK. Eventually, I bring the sliver of paper up to my lips, deftly
feigning inhalation. Smooth flavor...

William looks up at me with those preposterously large eyes of his
and, for the first time today, puts forth the effort to straighten out
his spine and stutter a few words. In spite of the pain it causes him
he wants to speak to me. You have to admire his grit.

"T-T-Thomas, it's been a fun day, and it is r-r-rather late­ ungt!
­but, if it's all the same to you... I... I would prefer that we tarry
here for a while, and p-p-pickle in the ebb and flow of the...
c-c-cool night air."

I raise my cig to him and nod respectfully. We both jump as a building
collapses, somewhere off in the distance. On this night, the city will
not be afforded its usual dusk-to-dawn reprieve.

Gingerly, I work the length of gauze out of my mouth and begin to
unroll its damp wad of fabric onto the sidewalk. William's glassy eyes
reflect a light that seems to originate from no obvious source. He
recognizes what it is I've managed to smuggle out of the doctor's
office. There is more here than just the blood and spittle sopped up
by the rags.

A selection of tiny hand tools glistens in the light of the street
lamp. These are the final pieces we'll need to render our
reverse-engineering shop, hidden for now in a vacant ammo closet on
the sixth level, fully operational. Once I can get a hold of a few
more classified schematics, we can begin undercutting the importers
and kick our minuscule operation into full gear. We'll even be able to
outfit William's chair with its own shield jacket and an independent
comms package, all of our own design. No more relying on the adults or
outsiders for our gear.

I briefly consider cutting Father in on this action. The notion is
dispersed by the echoes of mortar fire reverberating across the river.
Try as I might, I know he just couldn't be made to understand. This
world we've arrived at, crowning from the great, vaginal maw of
nothingness bequeathed to us by our ancestors, brooks no quarter for
the elderly, or for those sad individuals still nostalgic for the
unambiguous adversaries of eras past. Pop would be happier lobbing
rounds at the enemy, clawing defiantly as he sinks into his grave,
still convinced he's making some sort of falsifiable, empirical
contribution to his generation's most momentous struggle.

What a load of bollocks. Dad has wasted his entire life on this
nonsense.

I decide it's best to keep my opinions to myself. William tends to be
sentimental when it comes to family.

Speaking of which, the boy has gotten busy, grunting and drooling onto
his shirt. All evidence of his brief flash of lucidity is gone,
vanished. Might as well never have happened. He's making a mess of his
clothing.

I snatch up the little bundle of tools before he spoils them.
Sometimes you wonder why you even bother. With William, the sentiment
is amplified. I suppose I do feel for him.

We're both of us looking forward to the end of this war.

No, really. Hear me out.

I've grown weary of the grind. I want to be free of William, free of
this duty.

I worry that the adults have already compromised our security. I can't
imagine the Green insurgents will ever give up. Do you see what I'm
saying? It's frustrating that the family pursues this stagnant vision
of religious purity. We can't all be ideologues. Or not of the type my
father admires, anyway. We have to be in this to win it. We have to
get in where we fit in. And that might not include the Church.

For now, I suppose, I'm content to focus on having a smoke and getting
rich.

I'm convinced it's the only way I'm going to survive.

VISOR TECHNOLOGY

tags: 1964, actron, tab1, tab2, the_chief

The new gear seemed to suit Tommy fine.

Indeed, over the past month he'd hardly complained. The visor allowed
him to dominate. Sometimes even with the older boys. Now, he came home
with money in his pocket.

He still hadn't been drafted.

When I'd sent him to the clinic, I was only vaguely aware of what they
might install in his head. This modern equipment was beyond my
expertise. Above my pay grade, as we used to say. Now, it looked as if
some improvements had been pushed to Tommy's firmware, even in the
last fifteen minutes. All I could do was shake my head.

The tactical advantage was clear. I was just glad HQ had agreed to pay
for it all.

Reagan was starting to concern us. Would he poison the public on Bush?
J. K. Rowling might run for President in 1968. Naturally, something
had to be done.

I decided to involve Tommy. I was allowed complete discretion when it
came to personnel. I thought that with the enhancements he'd prove
useful. At least as useful as before.

And he had been pretty useful, before.

I got him out of bed and brought him in to work.

The Chief was having a bit of a problem with a can of bi-partisan
gravy.

"I can't get this spamming thing opened."

Tommy quickly found a weak spot in the can's lid, using his visor."No
problem," he said, and opened the can.

"Next time, I'll just go with the low-fat deli shtick."

"None of that stuff is very good for you," Tommy chided.

The Chief could only roll his eyes.

"Well, shit on my Christmas! The boy's found another one."

Campaign contributions. We'd put Tommy on the trail of J. K. Rowling's
backers. The financial streams were now running through the boy's
system. He was even better at this than the machines.

"It's old man Jerrymander."

"The Molds," I said, making eye contact with Tommy.

We'd had a hell of a time keeping this guy out of the race. Strictly
speaking, he wasn't even legal; an immigrant from some border state
that had been excluded from the new American union. But he'd leveraged
his wealth to rig local rules in one of the communities he controlled.
We'd missed it before it was too late. It had caused some friction
here at HQ. Who was to blame? We all had a bit of a problem with
Mold's politics.

"So I guess if he can't run, he'll put up a guy who can. Sounds like a
good strategy to me."

"No, not analysis," I ordered."You concentrate on the streams."

"Yes Father," Tommy replied.

After a while he seemed to tucker out. I brought up some comic books
on my leaf and sent him over to a corner. The Chief had allowed his
own son to tag along that day, and so the two of them spent a few
hours together, chewing on slices of lunch meat and catching up on
back issues of ACTRON. Harmless entertainment, in my opinion.

But Tommy had hit on something important. If Jerrymander Mold really
was angling again to get his claws into the election, we could expect
a lot of activity down south in the next few weeks. It was likely the
attacks on the city would only intensify.

The boy's visor had amortized in only a month.

PAPER WINTER

tags: 1966, mother, tab1, tab2, violet

Violet's Diary

1 October 1966

It had all crumpled. Violet moved her eyes across the sky but could
not find its edges, the corners of a vast, dirty sheet of paper that
canopied the entire city. Fibrous swirls stirred and unrolled before
her, contriving illusions of focus. Violet stared silently past the
rooftops, ignoring the city and directing her gaze forward into space.
Or rather, she thought, she would have been staring into space, if not
for this endless, sprawling white that inevitably drew one's eyes back
into the soot. Her mask observed the scene with detachment. On its
face, it did not register whether Violet felt one way or the other
about the situation. More broadly, about anything at all. The lack of
visibility was of personal concern, to be sure; but it was nothing
that should mar Violet's appearance to others. The mask was certain of
this. After all, Violet had configured the settings herself.

Violet turned away from the window and directed her face towards the
central corridor of her family's apartment. A line of green squares
tracked her hand as it traveled from the window back down to her side.
Turning in bright arcs, the dots of color followed by half-steps,
floating gradually closer to the reflector on the opposite side of her
body. Chimes had sounded, there in the room, and Violet knew at once
that she was meant to answer the door as quickly as possible. Her
mother had not yet emerged from her preening room, her father was
still in his bath, probably drinking, or perhaps by now bloodying his
hands on the broken pieces of his bourbon glass. She could not slump
any further without endangering her balance, so she straightened
herself, careful not to put any undue strain on her stabilizers.
Finally, this action prompted her mask to register a minute change in
her facial expression. Inside, a joint clicked.

"My back feels like it's being folded into paper airplanes," she
muttered into her faceplate.

Presently, there emerged between the doorway's mechanical lips a
familiar, angular-faced woman, who reeked alternately of whiskey and
of the orchids that were pinned to her billowing yellow coat. Violet's
grandmother swept into the apartment and at once commenced to critique
the child's appearance. She was able to issue several disconnected,
declarative statements before being overcome by the rolling contours
of her own formal wear. Violet giggled. This animation of the old
woman's garb was not without its effect. Soon enough, bony hands
pushed through the bright folds of cloth and found purchase on
Violet's arm. The hands proceeded to travel. Violet's fingers were
studied at length before it was stated authoritatively that she would
now turn over her tobacco pouch and put away her pipe. Nicotine, her
grandmother said, stains the hands.

When Grandmother fled the seclusion of her estate, which was by now
quite seldom, she would insist upon stowing a small animal within the
sleeves of her baroque accouterments. As a matter of course, one such
animal was present today. The Shih Tzu nipped wildly at Violet's mask
as she leaned forward to embrace the old woman around her waist.
Violet made no attempt to pull away from her grandmother or from the
dog. Her mask maintained its aloof composure, sensors indicating that,
beneath its porcelain exterior, Violet's flesh likewise held close to
its default settings.

The formal greetings finally concluded, Grandmother seated herself and
began smoothing out the creases in her dog's black velvet dress. A
spate of frivolous conversation ensued; meaningless, serving only to
mark the passage of time and to calm the old woman's nerves until at
last she would be reunited with her son.

Brill cream.

A wristwatch.

He was now able to make out a lot of what was there, sitting on the
bathroom shelf. Paper-white reflected in the mirror, streaming in from
the window. It was snowing. It was daylight again. Still?

A buzzer. His face seemed permanently affixed to the bathroom floor.
Two or three of his teeth scratched along the tiles and vibrated in
sympathy with whatever that racket was, echoing down the hall. A pool
of saliva had formed around his chin. Slowly, he came to the
realization that the current arrangement of his limbs was
uncomfortable.

When his arms didn't work, he shifted attention to his legs. He pushed
himself over to the door and noticed that it remained locked from the
inside. Still, it was a no-go on getting it to open again. At this
point he couldn't even pull his arms up off of the floor, much less
manipulate a key.

Movement in the hallway flagged his attention as a whole set of keys
(worn externally) brushed the doorknob in passing. The sound passed
very quickly. Presumably, Violet, on her way to the kitchen.

Just then, the remainder of last night's double-malt scotch flickered
into view, diffracting the snow-light and catching his eye. The bottle
lay motionless in a blurry field of illumination, an unconvincing
square of warmth let in by the bathroom window. He realized then that
the odds were narrowing with regards to his non-functional arms. Oh
no, not again. He lunged wildly and tried to chew the words out of his
mouth, protesting the locked door, proclaiming his innocence, but
instead of the familiar taste of his own lies, his tongue caught on a
jagged fixture of gauze and surgical tape. Fragments still wedged into
the space where a molar had lived.

He popped several fasteners by artificially expanding his belly and
got out of his suspenders and Italian pants. The shirt and vest had
become a straight jacket, detaining him against his will; flailing
around on the mat beneath the sink, he tried to squirm out of them.
Finally down to his underpants, he slid over to the bathtub and pushed
himself up, over its lip, into the gaping, porcelain mouth. The water
was quite warm, as far as he could tell. The porcelain, cold.

Head upside-down, hanging over the edge of the tub, he could just make
out a snow drift on the neighbors' roof. He had to stop then and laugh
because it looked like the house was wearing a beard.

He had been awake for close to half an hour. It should have taken no
more than four seconds (at the outside) for his arms to come back to
life, but the scotch was complicating matters. His shoulder gave an
inch, and a splinter of pain shot through his elbow, shattering
violently at his wrist.

Motor functions had still not returned to his arms.

A pounding came at the door and it was faster than he could sink his
bottle into the tub. The soapsuds were mostly dispersed now, traveled
behind his legs and back. He realized, too late, that his glass was
still on the sink. None of this would look good to Violet. He hoped it
was the boy.

The lock clicked, and turned, and then the heavy wooden door swung
inward.

Appearing at the foot of the tub was his nine year old son, head
poking through the shirt Thomas had struggled to tear out of only
moments before. It fit him like a circus tent. The boy was completely
oblivious to his father's predicament.

"Dad," he said."The Vice President will arrive soon."

Soon, he thought. But Thomas could not yet speak. He was too drunk.

Presently, his wrist began to turn, forming his hand into a fist
beneath the water. His grip was so tight that it drew blood from the
skin graft stretched around his palm. He could hear some nonsense
about Redaction Day dinner from a telescreen three rooms away. If his
mouth had been working, he would have screamed for them to turn the
damned thing down. So loud.

His mother would arrive within the hour, no doubt with her husband in
tow. He hadn't even wanted them to know where he lived.

The Vice President. The spamhole.

Now, where were his pants.

Again, his kid was waving his arms around like a shot pigeon and
looking as if he had something especially urgent he wanted to say.

What?

"Dad!"

He heard a weird grating sound in the left side of his head, followed
by a long hiss that seemed to issue from his own mouth. Lateral
stimuli?

Thomas blinked, involuntarily, and his arms fell off, right into the
bathtub. He heard the bloop, and then he heard them hit bottom,
rolling around underwater. Suds splashed onto the floor and also onto
his cleanly pressed pants, which were right where he'd left them,
draped over the edge of the sink. He looked around, disgusted. How was
he going to get himself out of the tub? His daughter would be livid.

But he was also suddenly sober. In half of a second he'd come fully
awake. Yes, it was not too soon to say he'd hatched himself a
Redaction Day plan.

The idea burned in his mind, seemed to radiate sufficient heat to
alter the temperature of the room. Old favors would be called in. They
would not make a fool of him this year. Things were definitely
starting to look up.

"Tommy, get me my phone."

"Sure thing, Pop!"

Thomas, Sr. looked around the room. He fished in his pants pocket and
found the other flask.

"Fuck it," he thought, and took another drink.

D.I.V.O.R.C.E.

tags: 1967, margaret, piro, tab1, tab2, the_chief, violet

While we waited for NO/MOAR to calm down, overtime was channeled into
other projects.

Tommy was doing well, he'd started his ops training in the fall. I had
asked to have him assigned to Piro, the son of an old buddy of mine,
and probably the most experienced instructor at the Farm. Everything
seemed to be going as planned.

Then we ran straight into PM/DAWN. I was out of the house for six
months.

Here again, I have to say, Tommy was a big help. On his trips home
he'd advise HQ on tactics. He had a knack for anticipating how the
enemy would respond to our provocations. It was bad of me, but again I
found myself wondering how hard it would be to pull him out of
classes, to get him more directly involved in the operation. He was
shaping up to be our most promising young asset. I stopped worrying
about whether or not he could handle a regular assignment. He was more
than ready; anyone could see it.

But the boy needed to be in school. On this, I honestly agreed with
his mother.

So, we had reached an impasse. I left him where he was.

One day I was catching up on the backlog of paperwork when the Chief
dropped something new on my desk. Immediately, I recognized the name
of my daughter. It was printed there in the byline.

I had never once taken a drink on the clock, but I found myself
wondering after a bottle.

I looked over the folder. It appeared to be excerpts from Violet's
diary, circa 1966. Key portions had been circled, some of them were
flashing.

The phone rang.

It was Violet's mother.

It was my wife.

As I say, I didn't even drink.

I still don't know why Violet wrote it; the bulk of it was obviously
fictional. Some elaborate account of my supposed boozing and general
drunkenness. Wholly fabricated. In any case, the facts were
irrelevant. The girl's mother caught wind of the mention of alcohol
and that was that. It didn't matter that she'd never even seen me take
a drink. We were getting divorced.

I hung up the phone.

Well, this would complicate dealing with PM/DAWN, almost certainly.

I didn't want to draw things out­I knew the last thing the kids needed
was the added drama of having to wait for me to show up and take my
lumps­but I needed to make a few stops on the way home. I realized
that, with my few personal belongings, I had very little that would be
of interest to the children. Even Margaret's scriptures said that this
was no way to make an exit from your family. Protocol required that I
turn over, to each of them, some artifact to remember me by.

Prop-effects from here at HQ were no good; Tommy had spent his whole
childhood playing with them out in the warehouse. He knew they were
junk.

There was nothing of interest in my truck, either. By habit, I kept it
as clean as my office. Briefly, I considered giving Tommy the vehicle;
but then I remembered that he was only nine years old. The truck was
unlikely to be of use to him, at that age.

What else.

The Chief was in, so I couldn't sneak into his office and rummage
through his mess, either.

It looked as though I'd be paying a visit to a GANGSTERMAX theme
store. Find something there. Thus equipped, I could face the children,
explain to them why this would be my last evening living with them at
home.

I hoped that the local branch would have what I needed in stock.

Or at least something approximate.

(18:54) < tommy> trds
(18:54) < tommy> i guess he's not going to be home for a while. you
know, you still have time to change your mind.
(18:54) < violetCRUSH> Oh, fuck him.
(18:55) < violetCRUSH> Mom's not going to stand for this.
(18:55) < tommy> for him being late when he had to stop off at the
store?
(18:55) < violetCRUSH> Haha, no, you idiot. just watch.
(18:55) < tommy> i really wish i could be home to stop you from doing
this.

"An old belt?"

"Son, you know I don't actually drink. But I won his belt twenty years
ago, riding an electric bull."

Tommy's connection cut out, momentarily.

"You were drunk," he resumed.

"Well..."

I was spinning this stuff out of thin air. I hesitated for too long.

"Of course he was drunk! Can you imagine Dad climbing onto an electric
bull under any other circumstances?"

"This is stupid," Tommy said."Have you been drinking behind our backs
all of these years or not?"

"An analog microscope? But... why?"

"This belonged to me in college, Violet."

"But all the glass has been removed!"

"I... it broke, some years ago."

"I suppose I can use it as a bookend."

"That's my girl. Good thinking. Adapt to the situation at hand."

Tommy cut out, rather abruptly. This time on purpose. He seemed
disgusted with the whole affair. Good, son, put it into your training.
Violet kept trying to resume the connection, but he was gone.

"What a kick in the chest-balls, Dad," Violet said."You could at least
have bought us something expensive."

I cleaned out my den with a minimum of fuss. Most of my gear was
networked and took up little physical space. It wasn't a big job.
Violet helped me pack my things out to the truck.

Margaret never even entered the room. Violet said she was waiting
until I was gone. The sour old bitch.

Well, I don't suppose she deserved that.

"You know I get your room when you're gone," Violet said, elbowing me
in the ribs.

"That's what this is all about, isn't it?" Of all the... I had finally
put it all together.

"And what if it is?"

My only daughter. The sour little bitch. I don't care what you think,
I won't take it back. She definitely deserved it.

"We'll see if you're still smiling when your brother and I are in Ohio
this summer."

That shut her up. Her training was topmost in her mind. I could cut
her off. Let her sit in my den. Reading about the training.

"You don't know what you're doing, Dad."

And she was right. I didn't.

VIOLET RETURNS FROM THE WOODS

tags: 1967, margaret, tab1, tab2, violet

As I say: at that moment, I had no way of knowing how far it would go.

Once Violet was sure I had left, she burst out of the house and ran
into the woods, making a production of whatever tears she was able to
muster. She stumbled over a tree limb and managed to tear her
stockings on her way to the ground. For increased verisimilitude she
also affected to scrape her elbow on a rock. Her face (and mask)
contorted accordingly.

Margaret observed all of this from the kitchen window, cursing me
audibly for having driven the girl into the forest. Her fists clenched
stiffly and her arms began to flail about, a spontaneous gesture of
maternal rage. I would have laughed even if I'd been standing there.
Funny. Predictably, she proceeded to bang one of her hands into a
cabinet corner, drawing blood. With this, she sat down on the floor
and began to cry.

Much was made of her injury back at HQ. Some of the guys actually felt
sorry for her.

Ah. My tender-hearted compatriots. Let them sit at the dinner table
with the woman. Then we could talk.

By now the Chief had filled me in on the plan. I would be brought up
on charges before a tribunal. The trial would be pushed through with a
minimum of publicity. In short order it would be decided that I was to
serve out a five year sentence in minimum security. Of course, I would
still operate with relative impunity from my cell. Assignments would
be passed to me via the usual covert methods. Meanwhile, the divorce
would be finalized without me. An Agency lawyer would be dispatched to
handle the case, making sure that the children were well taken care
of. Margaret could fend for herself.

So far, I was unable to offer a single objection.

Next, I would be drummed out of the service. I would be stripped of my
seniority and pension. To compensate, my Turkish accounts would be
reinstated. I would be provided a bottomless slush fund and unlimited
personnel. All requisitions would be rubber-stamped. Best of all, I
would have my pick of assignments from the general pool. (Within the
boundaries of the fall line-up.)

"This is just like Iran," the Chief observed.

And indeed he was right. If they were trying to frustrate me, it was
going to take more than fulfilling every bullet-item on my wish list.

"So long as we don't get canceled in the first season," I said, also
referring to our defunct Iranian program.

The Chief took my meaning.

The purpose of the divorce/prison subterfuge was to free up vital
Agency resources.

Namely, myself.

The war had tied a number of key assets to specific regional theaters;
a change that had been mandated from the top down. This was not how
the Chief liked to operate. Presidential authority had encroached upon
the Agency's domain, and the Chief was ready to turn things right-side
up again. The only problem was, authority for force replenishment had
not been returned to the Agency.

So, the Chief said, a number of non-essential agents would have to
die.

Others, such as myself, would simply go to prison.

Again, like Iran. Laundering, we called it.

Once she was sure that Margaret had finished the chores, Violet
returned to the house. Streaks of soft mud had accumulated around her
eyelids, conveying the impression of an afternoon spent sitting in the
dust, consumed by uncontrollable sobbing. Remarkably, Margaret herself
was still in tears.

The two females sat at the kitchen table, foreheads touching.
Blubbering and sputtering loudly. I had a leaf close at hand and
immediately began to jot down notes.

I was surprised to notice one of the surveillance operators dabbing at
his own eyelids with a handkerchief. This was an extraordinary display
for a professional. He had obviously failed to detect the covert
communication that was passing between the females of my household.

I recorded his handle in an adjacent column.

The next day, Violet shared her story on the playground. Her fellow
students were enthralled. Violet had inherited a particular skill at
narrative, it was true. From myself or from her mother I could not
say.

She led her friends over to the reflecting pool in preparation for her
big finale. Her mask wobbled in and out of coherency, but the other
children seemed oblivious to its significance. She had gained a fuzzy
penumbra. Was she having second thoughts?

"My father doesn't know I know this, but... he's a secret agent!"

Gasps for air. Unintelligible, involuntary vocalizations.

Here I would have the last laugh: her schoolmates would soon learn
that I was little more than a drunk who had abused his children and
who had been dumped into federal prison for his trouble.

We would see how Violet would recover from this blow to her
credibility.

Relaxing at home, Violet took her time moving her belongings into my
den. Margaret hadn't even complained about the mess. From time to
time, Tommy would stop by. Near the end he could barely contain his
disapproval of the new decor. Pink stripes and red carpeting; plus all
of Violet's junk. But in deference to Margaret's authority, he said
nothing.

It's too bad he didn't speak up. Some friction might have slowed
Violet down.

Emboldened by the great success of her first deception, Violet would
soon go to work on her mother.

KUDEN

tags: 1968, dante, piro, ralph, tab1, tab2

Tommy and his group made their way over to the 9th green.

"This is the 9th green," Piro announced."Please stack your lunches, or
line them up neatly along the outer edge of the training area. It
would be appreciated if you could put the lunches into your gear bags,
if there is no extra room along the tree line. It will be a while
before we are ready for a snack."

Most of the boys complied.

"Now, if there are no preliminary questions, we can begin."

"Sir," Dante interrupted.

"Yes, Dante?"

"Ralph isn't here."

"Isn't here?"

"He hasn't caught up with us yet. I think he spilled his gear bag in
one of the sand traps."

"I see."

Piro dispatched a pair of camp counselors to fetch Ralph.

"Now. Tommy, please attack Dante with your hanbo."

Hesitantly, Tommy rose to his feet. His camp uniform flapped in the
cool breeze. Standing in the darkness, he could no longer make Dante
out against the tree line.

So, improvise.

Tommy lunged wildly, waving his hanbo around like a parade flag. He
ended up taking three or four steps towards where Dante ought to have
been standing. He was starting to wonder if he should adjust course
when he felt what seemed to be a hand brushing against his visor,
which caused him to blink uncontrollably. This disrupted his movements
such that he fell directly onto his face. A beat later, Dante had
tripped over his own hanbo and fallen on top of him.

"Saru mo ki kara ochiru," Piro said, extending an arm towards Tommy to
help him up."I see the problem. Because of the darkness, you are both
effectively blind."

"No shit," said one of the other boys.

"Actually," Tommy ventured,"Because of my visor, if I had enabled the
functionality, I would be quite able to see in the dark."

Piro was not impressed."Yes. Then that explains your fall."

"I tripped! What do you want from me?"

"Get up."

It went on like this for several hours. The nine boys finding any and
every excuse to fall on their asses, and Piro obliging them happily. I
don't know about the Agency, but I was certainly getting my money's
worth. At a certain point, the two older students returned with Ralph
in tow. It had taken them quite a while to coax him out of the sand
trap.

He had lost a contact.

"Ralph. Please. Attack Tommy with your hanbo."

"My...? Oh. I left that back at the cabin."

"I see. Here, you may use mine."

"Oh. Well... Sure."

Ralph assumed an offensive posture and then tore off running towards
Tommy. Only, Tommy standing wasn't where he had been, moments before.
Nothing was where Tommy had been. Ralph looked around. It was nearly
pitch black. All he could distinguish in the night was the tops of the
trees. He could not even see his own feet.

Ralph's optic revelation was interrupted by the unlikely sensation of
his left arm being wrenched fully out of its socket. Tommy had somehow
entangled his arm with his own short staff. As Ralph cried out Tommy
sank deeper into his stance, fully applying the technique. At length
he released the pressure and fell back into a defensive stance. Ralph
collapsed to the ground, writhing and spitting, nursing his damaged
limb. Through his tears, he could just make out Tommy's silhouette,
skylined against the clouds above the trees.

"Oh bull shit," cried Ralph."I quit!"

Towards the end of the training session, Piro began to pick on Tommy.

"Tommy, with me."

"Again? But I've gone the last ten times in a row."

"What can I say? You're good at falling. Let's see if you can keep it
up even when you're tired."

"It's a shit parade and you're riding the big float," said one of the
other boys.

Piro triangulated the reverberations and then pointed directly at the
source of the remark.

"You're next."

In the middle of Piro's sentence Tommy launched himself into the air,
a full-body tackle aimed squarely at Piro's chest. He could feel
himself making contact even before it happened. On this, his first day
of training, his confidence as a fighter was already on the rise. He
was a natural not only at strategy, but even at the blunt, physical
stuff.

Piro stepped lightly out of the way of Tommy's assault, digging his
fingers into the slim space between his visor and his face. He twisted
Tommy's body around in a spiral, somehow gaining the leverage to flip
himself over Tommy's back. Next, the equal and opposite reaction:
Piro's movement sent Tommy hurtling over his head into a tree. The boy
went limp and collapsed to the ground, unconscious.

"We're finished here for tonight, boys. We'll meet on the 9th green
again tomorrow, after the cookout. Twenty-three hundred hours, sharp."

Immediately following Piro's departure, Dante rose to the occasion. He
knelt over Tommy's inert body and began to take down his trousers.

"Come on guys. We'll give him a Scottish Samurai while he's asleep."

CLASS 68

tags: 1968, 1983, dante, piro, ralph, reginald, tab1, tab2

"I hate Ohio! It's crazier than a dick in an ashtray out here!"

"Son, I don't care if the instructor cuts your fingers off. Your
tuition is costing taxpayers money. Think NASA. You suck it up and
make me proud."

"This combatatives SME... Piro. They tell me he has photographic
reflexes."

"Yes."

"Dad..."

"I trained with his father. He'll get you off to a good start. Learn
your basics. Then you can complain."

"I'm experiencing some mild discomfort, Dad."

"I should say you are! Remember, I'm familiar with your physical
stats. The pain will pass."

"Whatever. I guess. My knees feel like toothpaste."

Tommy clicked off and straightened his uniform. Shortly, a tram would
arrive to take the boys bar hopping. First on the itinerary was THE
VULVA POLE. Reginald's idea. Tommy hoped they would have time to grab
a bite to eat before moving on to THE TIZENAUS. Dante's idea. He spun
through his calendar app. Scheduling headaches, even at camp.

"A pigeon can't drop shit if it never flew."

The password was correct. Tommy minimized the lock and a few of the
guys from his class ambled into his room.

Reginald appraised the situation. Tommy was going overt.

"I see. We're assuming the ladies can't resist the uniform."

"Where's Ralph," Tommy asked, smoothing down the front of his jacket.
Reginald always had the freshest gear.

"Fapping in his room again," said Reginald."We didn't interrupt."

"Just as well," Tommy sighed."We're all logged out, right?"

"Probably not Ralph."

"Oh right. I guess he doesn't mind that they log everything we do."

"For him, I think that's part of the appeal."

Click. Click.

Shoulder almost out of joint.

Piro eased the pressure only slightly, but it was enough for Tommy to
snake out of his hold.

"You had better hope you didn't let me go on purpose. Sir."

Piro didn't answer, so Tommy continued.

"I guess you didn't see that coming. It's a little something I've been
working on with the guys. I must create a system or be enslaved by
another man's."

"Blake. Good. I assume you're telling me that you haven't yet mastered
the techniques I assigned to you."

"Well, I haven't engaged in rote memorization. But I'll assume the
fact that I'm standing over here, no longer restrained by your hold,
indicates that I've familiarized myself with the basic principles."

Tommy's posture didn't alter. Piro's gaze remained steady. The other
boys in the training group thought anything could happen.

"Talking to me that way is... ridiculous."

"Doing this for three hours a day is ridiculous. Do you really think
I'm learning anything from you?"

Piro continued to stare.

"Boys, take five. Tommy. Over here."

"What, you want some more of this?"

"I think you'll understand once we begin."

I guess really I should have stayed glued to the monitors. After all,
it was my son. But I couldn't study every moment of his experience.
That probably marks me as a bad parent.

I've no defense.

I had originally intended to be present for his graduation, but at the
last minute I was called away to put out fires in another department.
Quotas.

I hold onto this earliest transcript because somehow, the later
material is no longer extant. The available photos are even older. For
some reason, mixed in with the logs from the camp, there are old
snapshots from Tommy's primary school. Evidently, that's all that's
left from the surveillance we ran. I'd ask Piro about it but let's
just say we're no longer on speaking terms.

[Interruption as I answer incoming messages.]

In the end, I hope Tommy can live up to his early promise. When I lost
track of him he was well on his way to providing excellent ROI. Even
with the ego problem. Essentially, he was a sure thing.

'68 was a long time ago, but not so long ago that he'd be inactive
just yet. If he stayed in.

I should look him up. He's probably not that hard to find. With my
access.

What am I saying. I'm retired.

DULL CARE

tags: 1969, tab1, theodore_roosevelt, volume_1

"Well well, I've not seen one of these in quite some time."

Our cell was crammed floor to ceiling with the things, box upon box,
but for some reason, the weathered newsprint of this particular comic
book held singular importance. He was being very careful with it, and
I had to cough into my shirtsleeve to mask an involuntary guffaw. He
stowed the comic's bag and backing board before he continued.

"Just look at it. I'd grade this as at least a VF/NM. Unfortunately it
wasn't slabbed. You see, there once existed any number of companies
that would take a comic book and grade it meticulously before sealing
it permanently in archival grade plastic, which would guarantee­"

"I know what'slabbing' means," I said.

He was talking in captions now.

Volume_1 had the largest comic book collection in the entire cell
block. This was significant as, in our facility, comic books were
traded as currency. In point of fact, these specific comic books were
valued as well above average reads. I don't mean to pun: they were
literally encoded with information critical to the continuity of the
United States government.

This was all he managed to tell me before we were interrupted.

"Shh! Someone's coming!"

Volume_1 was desperate to get the issue back into its bag, board and
long box. I couldn't figure out why; there were plenty of comics in
our cell to go around.

We could hear them talking.

"Productivity is down."

"Have you thought about reducing headcount?"

"Ha ha ha ha ha!"

After the guards had passed, I turned back to Volume_1."I don't think
I've ever asked you why you were in here."

"I kept sending these instant messages. My manager was monitoring.
Frequently, I guess. Evidently, the content of my messages offended
his protected sensibilities. Based on his religion. Felony
Insensitivity."

"I see. Which heresy?"

"Chicago Cubs."

Nothing more needed to be said.

Volume_1 went back to his comic book and I watched him flip through
it, gingerly supporting its spine on the flat of his hand.

Soft chimes surfaced slowly at the periphery of my awareness,
progressively drawing into focus. It was time for Volume_1's shift. He
stopped extracting comics from yet another long box and scooted it
back under his bunk. Bushed, I stretched out for a short nap.

At least, that's how I made it look to Volume_1.

As soon as he vacated the cell I pounced back to the floor, removed
the false panel and pulled out my kit and belt. I tore open a new
packet of FalseHand, deposited the wrapper, and in the same swift
motion pressed the delete button on the trash bin. I waved my hand in
front of the cell door and exited onto the balcony, where I was
greeted with quite a lot of hustle and bustle. Most of the workers
were scattering about between shifts. Volume_1 would return within
sixteen hours, so my timetable had to be executed with precision, not
skipping any beats. Fortunately, as a professional, I had been
expertly trained. There would be no problem meeting (or perhaps
exceeding) the requirements of my schedule.

My ride was idling on the roof. As I approached the air vehicle, rotor
backwash batted my hair around my face. Annoyed, I tied it back. A man
strapped to a gurney was removed from the back seat before I boarded.
He looked to be in bad shape.

I observed the red cross of the landing pad shrinking into nothingness
as we pulled away from the complex. The pilot of the helicopter gave
me a thumbs up but I stared past him, blandly, lacking any awareness
of his gesture. Outside of the building my implants had kicked in and
I was now sorting my mail.

Zoom.

Half an hour later they put me down near Monte Rio. By this time I'd
changed into a sweater and khakis. A Mercedes idled ponderously about
a hundred yards down the road, trickling exhaust runoff onto the
pavement. I lugged my duffel behind me, finally heaving it into the
car's trunk. Off to one side the driver stood motionless, grinning.
Clearly, he was amused at my efforts to avoid breaking a sweat. He
kept standing there and eventually I figured out that he was waiting
for some sort of a tip. His remarkable audacity gave me a chuckle, so
I dug around in my bag and passed him an old, rolled-up comic book
from the collection in my cell. He jammed it into his back pocket,
quickly, quietly, betraying no reaction, so as not to be observed by
the departing chopper pilot. Obviously, he was used to this sort of
transaction. Seemingly satisfied, the driver took his place behind the
wheel of the Mercedes and we sped off through the countryside.

We accelerated into a steady incline, passing through many stands of
trees before finally arriving at a very small entryway that branched
off of the main highway.

The driver navigated the Mercedes through a series of security
checkpoints, and soon I was deposited into one of the"new member"
parking lots of the Green. Presently, a small, open-roof shuttle
appeared, ready to escort me through the main gates of the encampment.

The trees of the Green were monstrous. I mean to say that literally: I
was half-convinced they were moving. Of course, they weren't. I
detected no other signs of life in the general vicinity. No animals.
The hiking trails were deserted.

Not all was dead: I rounded a curve in the path and spotted my first
vantage point, glowing yellow, centered in my field of vision.

The tree was quite large. It would do.

I hoisted my bags onto my perch, then setup the comms package before
unjacking myself and turning on the beacon. I waited for the trigger.

Nothing.

The by-laws of the Green forbade surveillance equipment of any kind. I
now surmised that this policy was enforced through active
intervention, jamming of a sort I was not familiar with. My
chronometer didn't even work. I would have to go manual.

I climbed down from the tree just as the sun was creeping below the
horizon and commenced wandering along paths, searching for Bannister
Colon.

When I found him, he was pulling on a Hawaiian cigar and waxing
political with a few friends in front of a large, gas bonfire. The
Eagle's Nest loomed beyond, wavering in and out of coherency through
the flames and smoke. The trees seemed to be swallowing it and
spitting it back out again, unsure of its potential toxicity.

"The high ground is attained through the stacking of bodies,"
Bannister said blandly, as if reading from a script.

My man Colon.

The others cackled, extending a wave of unrestrained mirth along the
necklace of fat bellies draped around the bonfire's ashen neck. Each
man appeared to have modeled his personal grooming and liturgical
wardrobe upon that of President Theodore Roosevelt, patron saint of
the Green. The aesthetic was an unfortunate portrait of crass largess.
The body language a study in historical inaccuracy. Our former
President would have been appalled at such a display. I shuddered
despite myself.

Indeed, this was a strange scene: to a man they reclined completely in
the buff, from balding head to lotioned, shoeless foot.

Preverts.

The Prevert tradition is older than the technology that makes it
possible.

It took me a while to wrap my head around that one.

I'm only aware of the technology's existence because my grandfather
was a member of the Green. Otherwise I would never have been selected
for this mission. Traditionally, problems within the Green are handled
internally.

Membership is not hereditary. I was never invited into the ranks of
the Green itself. Not that I would have joined them even if offered
the chance. By the time I was of age I had long since departed for
Iran, exercised my own unique will and signed on for my first tour of
duty in the armed forces, trudging hip-deep into my own army of
olive-skinned bodies.

Whatever, the organization had stopped accepting outside inquiries
some time in the 1920s, after a breach of security had resulted in
front page articles around the world that exposed the interaction
between certain political leaders and boy prostitutes taking place
within its walls.

Obviously, that was only a cover story.

Before long things started to pick up around the bonfire, activity
sparking within the self-satisfied circle of fat.

From out of nowhere each man produced a small device and strapped it
to his hand. Instantly, the bonfire extinguished itself and the
surrounding woods fell silent. Only the sound of the men's chattering
teeth broke the stillness, settling into a steady rhythm that
resonated unpleasantly in my skull.

I began to hear what sounded like an injured animal, whimpering softly
from within the center of the makeshift circle. The fire was out, but
I couldn't imagine how it could have cooled so quickly, or how
anything living could have survived the flames that had subsided only
moments before.

The men's mouths spread wide and their chattering teeth became
visible, reflecting in the sickly moonlight. I felt something hard
coalesce in the pit of my stomach. For some reason the scene was
affecting me physically. A hint of the taste of vomit trickled into my
mouth.

A child had appeared. A boy.

Dumbly, he bounced between the bare bellies, clawing and scratching
and kicking against the men of the circle. They didn't seem concerned
with his evident distress. Blood seeped from some of the scratches he
was inflicting, against the men and against himself.

Oblivious, he didn't seem to care. Lacking in empathy, the men didn't
care either.

I never cared for this part of the process, myself.

Preverts rape themselves.

According to legend, it goes back to Caesar. Symbolically, anyway.
Candidates in the world-ruling business have long been vetted through
an exotic procession of pomp and ritual.

The technology I mentioned truly is remarkable. It's not exactly time
travel, per se, because the men themselves, the initiators, don't
actually travel through time. The same holds true for their victims.
Rather, space is bent in such a way that interaction with the past is
non-paradoxical. Lateral. Frankly, it's beyond me. I've seen it in
action so I no longer try to make sense of it. It just works.

I shifted uncomfortably as the service continued.

Each man, when it was his turn, spit out his cigar and touched the
surface of his wrist device. The boy would jerk uncontrollably towards
him, drawing temporarily into his grasp. Simultaneous with this
motion, the child's face morphed to resemble that of his captor,
uncannily regressed to childhood. This alternating promenade continued
for some time, though the participants were carrying out their
observance at an unnerving pace. As each man embraced the boy he
continued to whimper, weakly, and my skull tightened around my brain.

With each tap of the wrist, a different face.

My orders were clear: only interrupt them once they'd finished with
what they'd come to do. It was imperative that the ritual proceed to
completion.

Habitually, I always followed orders, even where inconvenient. That
was my calling card. That was why they gave me these jobs. A Green
mission was no exception, on either account.

Soon, the ritual concluded. It was time for me to intercede.

I checked my weapons before leaping into the clearing. Then, with a
single, smooth motion, I laid down the entire congregation of
important men. Nerve agent spilled across their undulating frames and
splattered against the big wooden benches behind them. Sloppy.
Uncharacteristically so. I paused to scold myself and clean up the
evidence.

The organic material in the benches was starting to melt. Running out
of time, I abandoned them.

I made my way over to the boy. His features had stopped changing and
now he wore the wrong face. Great.

Returning to the mound of boiling fat, I fished out the proper hand
and used it to thumb the appropriate controller. Suddenly, the correct
face coalesced on top of the boy's body. I introduced myself and asked
him a few questions.

"Son, what's your name?"

"Thuh..."

"Yes?"

"Th-Theodore... R-R-Roosevelt."

The face. The Name. Not what I had expected.

Definitely a bigger job than I was being paid for.

Frankly, I was appalled.

But: Orders. Reputation. The things I actually cared about. I would
follow the script.

I raised my weapon, logged in, and emptied my full clip into the boy's
face.

Finally, the woods fell silent.

THE BAD STUDENT

tags: 1969, frankie_willard, prince, tab2, cheryl

I tear a sheet from my notebook. After some fidgeting I manage to
produce a cigarette. I lean back against the concrete wall of the
building, my rat-tail poking into the scruff of my neck. It's rather
uncomfortable. There is a commotion from somewhere, over near the
basketball courts. After a brief period of silence, the school bell
rings. I curse, sub-audibly, taking my place in line. I'm careful not
to crumple the cigarette as I conceal it within my sleeve.

Recess is over.

I'm antsy. I shift my weight from one leg to the other. This jostling
brings to mind Frankie Willard, made to stand with both feet planted
inside of a single tile on the floor. Punishment for having spoken out
of turn. Frankie complained that because of his great size, he would
surely topple over if he were not permitted to sway from side to side.
The teacher sarcastically denied his request­structural integrity be
damned. No, Frankie would have to stand firmly within the square,
maintaining his posture for the duration of the class. At the time, I
too had regarded Frankie's claims as spurious. Does an office building
need to sway from side to side? It seemed ridiculous. A man should be
able to stand still.

Today I'm of a mind to view Frankie's situation in a different light.
Standing still in this line is impossible. Despite myself, I've begun
to sway from side to side. Fuck it, Frankie was right all along.

At the moment, no one is watching me. I disregard protocol and resume
my cigarette. Smoke slinks from the burning cherry, a string of
ten-dimensional nothingness. Or so I choose to perceive.

The boy in front of me rotates his head to an obtuse azimuth, asks to
bum a cig. I am more than happy to oblige. From my pocket I produce
two slender folds of paper, offering one to my companion. He's still
in possession of the lighter I made for him, so we're all set. Good to
go. From time to time, I'm happy to supply free product, as a short
demonstration will often serve to spark demand. When one's business is
illicit, establishing the perception of good-natured magnanimity is
wise. Happy customers are quiet customers.

And quiet is a baseline necessity for my mission.

Just as the fresh cigarette taste is making itself apparent, our
teacher pokes her head around the corner. She notices us stragglers,
lately fallen away from the back of the line. She's displeased to note
that we're still here, leaning up against the wall, each man enjoying
an individual smoke. She approaches swiftly and proceeds to bend our
ears. That's when she realizes who I am. Quite comically, this new
awareness halts her scolding, mid-sentence. She directs the other boys
back to the classroom and then turns to me, a stupid look on her face.
She pulls me by my rat-tail into a deserted corridor. The contact is
exhilarating.

I'm going to score.

The woman has been shooting me these kinds of looks all semester. A
couple of times she's caught me adjusting my visor, straining to catch
a peek through her blouse. Instead of voicing an objection she usually
just smiles. It's crossed my mind that she may even fancy my attempts
to look down her shirt. Consider: she's the only one of our first
grade teachers who will wear shorts in summer. To my knowledge, this
is technically against the rules. I turn these thoughts over in my
mind, one after the other, as I consider my immediate future.

She tightens her grip on my shoulder.

I brace for a kiss.

Instead, she snatches the cigarette from my lips and sends it
careening over her shoulder, skittering down the corridor. Well, that
wasn't quite what I expected. I think to myself that it's convenient
this corner of the building is devoid of traffic. Could she have
planned our confrontation days, even weeks, in advance? Have things
really progressed to that level? Gradually, the woman is drawing my
attention to infinite new dimensions, threading my string through
myriad vortices, the resulting matrix a blunt satire of our
tessellating material realm. She's the teacher? I'm fit to burst.

She parts her lips as if to speak. Softly, softly.

This must be it.

"So. You believe that folding pieces of paper into the shape of a
cigarette, then selling them to your classmates is a good way to make
friends, Thomas?"

The tenderness I sensed only moments before is now vanished. She's
trying her best to be stern. I can't say why, exactly, but this only
excites me more.

"So far it seems to be working fine," I offer, straining, barely
containing myself."I have plenty of friends."

"I've seen you outside, pretending to smoke, for weeks now. The
students here look up to you, and I'm disappointed in how you've
chosen to repay that trust. I want you to think of how you're
influencing them, Thomas."

"I'm not coercing anyone," I correct gently, so as not to rend the
gossamer fragility of the moment."I'm simply providing a service.
There's an obvious demand and I'm only too happy to fill it. Surely
you realize, this sort of equitable transaction is the very basis of
our free economy, which ensures the continuity of­"

She kisses me.

I break free.

"­the very continuance of our society."

She doesn't seem impressed with my argument.

From my jacket I produce a conspicuously pristine piece of equipment.
The object fairly leaps from its place of concealment. She is somewhat
startled, tries to mask her reaction, but the sudden adoration evident
in her eyes will not be suppressed. Does she know what this is, then,
after all? Removing her hand slowly from my own, I raise the object to
my chest (her waist) and finger the switch that brings it to life. She
jumps as a holographic image grows out of my palm. I have to adjust my
visor again before I'm able to see it.

So, this is Prince Rogers Nelson. Not exactly an imposing figure, but
in relation to his framing, here in my hand, it hardly matters.
Reports indicate that my teacher is quite enamored with this miniature
entertainer. By all rights he was a fine composer, but some say he
actually considered himself to be the physical reincarnation of the
Egyptian Pharaoh Ahkanaten. There was a spate of controversy around
the time he decided to found his own religion.

Whatever.

The unexpected appearance of the tiny man seems to be doing the trick
with my teacher. As PRN begins to vibrate, I angle him beneath her
skirt.

"Just lay back," says Prince.

She does as he says.

While she is momentarily stunned, distracted, I remove the remaining
contraband from my pockets, depositing several paper cigarettes onto
the window ledge behind me. Shortly thereafter, the spring breeze
carries them away, floating them ever downwards, towards the
unnaturally green summer grass of the courtyard. All evidence of my
wrongdoing thus disposed of, I snap closed my gadget and switch to
manual, gazing deeply into my teacher's eyes as I finish her off.

She's some time in coming. But once sated, her body goes slack. At
last, I relax my arm and place my hand on her exquisite breast.

To my great surprise, she recoils. It seems I have ventured too far.
She smiles awkwardly and pushes me away, leans her head out of the
window to see what I've been up to all this time she's been writhing
under the ministrations of the holographic Prince. Her face shoots
completely red, full of blood. The view from the window, of course, is
unremarkable, but it's not the landscaping below that concerns her.
She sees the paper cigarettes scattered about the courtyard and
deduces that they must belong to me.

She begins to lecture me. Even these playthings, which are not real at
all, still set a negative example for the other students. Such toys
glorify the act of real smoking. I should have known better than to
engage in this sort of thing while at school. The premises is also a
commerce restricted zone, blah blah blah, etc. She is scrupulous to
avoid any mention of her orgasm, though I sense the experience is
still very much on her mind.

Overall, it proves to be a lackluster brow-beating. I consider the
context of present events set against the larger backdrop of my
mission and decide that her appraisal of my behavior is irrelevant. At
twelve years of age, infiltrating the first grade has been a cakewalk.
If this doesn't boost my grade average I don't know what will. I
swear, I'm ready to graduate CU/FARLEY. Let's hope my father and the
Chief see things my way.

I acknowledge her statements as I shove my hand into my pants and
scratch my groin.

As we return to the classroom, I reach out to hold her hand.

I probably don't have to tell you that I use the same hand.

UBICOMP

tags: 1969, potus, tab1

There is a ring of teeth around my stick and I can't pull it out. I
ease back and forth, gently, but the mouth won't let go. A sliver of
saliva escapes, spreading first around my stick's circumference, then
down to its base. All at once the President's head starts to move
again.

Textbook package delivery. Six calories of Turing gel forced into the
digestive track of the mark. Freed from its carriage, some of the
payload has already bonded firmly with the President's teeth.
Presently, the liquid bootstraps itself into the machinery of
surveillance. All logged in, phase one is complete. Other components
of the payload make their way into the President's circulatory system,
compensating for various biological ticks that would otherwise prove
fatal to the Commander In Chief. Phase two, loaded, completed.

I imagine there is something of an alkaline flavor. I don't know how
she can stand it.

Without warning, an additional teaspoon-dollop of nutrient-rich paste
shoots between the President's lips. Slowly, it threads down her
esophagus, coating her stomach's lining. I swish my stick around a
bit, making sure that the gel, by now teaming with expensive hardware,
gets a fair chance to take hold. She murmurs softly. I assume in
pleasure.

I glance at my watch.

Over time, the rogue cells I've introduced will create new tissue.
They'll get into the business of subverting dendrite structures, which
in turn (I'm told) will lead to the President's conscious assent to
our programs.

Caveat: the gel will need to be administered on a regular basis. I
assume I will be selected as the agent of delivery (it's of no concern
either way­there are numerous agents who are up to the task). In any
case, the process will continue. Before the President knows what is
happening, she will begin to crave the injections, find herself
inexplicably drawn to the blunt insertion of stick into mouth. Lacking
awareness, she'll come to regard the process as a pleasure of her own
devising. She may even develop an affinity for the taste.

But enough of my speculation, however well-informed. Her mouth is upon
me now, showing no sign of loosening its grip. Not losing suction. Her
eyes have rolled back into her head. She's become unresponsive. Even
her gag reflex has gone dead.

As an initial response to insertion, this faux catatonic state is not
unusual. In my field-work I've observed that women will often slip
into semi-consciousness once they've worked the Turing gel past their
back teeth. In truth, I was quite alarmed the first time it happened.
Maybe I had dribbled psychoactive sedative onto the tip of my cock, I
thought to myself. But no, this brief period of unconsciousness tends
to be shallow, tends to pass quickly.

I decide to sneak a peek, to see how she's coming along. Her mouth
glides smoothly on a thick lather of saliva, sealed by the walls of
her throat. Her head bobs up and down, gently rotating, rhythmically
advancing and retreating across the length of my equipment. She's
quite awake now and seems to have swallowed her cares.

A strand of the President's hair has caught on my watchband, but I'm
reluctant to interrupt her work.

I nudge her lovingly on the ear and her entire head shifts weight to
the other side. Her eyes flick open and she smiles as she releases my
stick, seemingly unaware of the considerable amount of time that has
passed. I slide out, drawing a trail of spit between myself and her
tongue, which she stares at quizzically before flashing a mischievous
grin and then aggressively chewing it all back into her mouth.
Ordinarily this would be fine, but a pool of spittle has coalesced
around my scrotum, and now it traces the contour of my buttocks. It is
cold.

A pink square blips in the lower-left of my vision, telling me that
the Turing cells have gained purchase.

I engage the President verbally as she re-applies her lipstick and
adjusts her coiffure.

I start making excuses, looking for a way out of the room.

ALL THAT IS

tags: 1970, missus_camilla, violet

Violet used her stylus to press against the reflective surface of her
school leaf. Presently, a margin message from Missus Camilla appeared,
signaling the class to begin writing.

Violet began:

	Words are insufficient to communicate all that is.

	Having'a problem' with this would imply that I think any other
	state of affairs is remotely possible.  The fact is that I
	have to accept my best current thinking on the subject, and
	right now I haven't come up with any reasonable counter to the
	observation that language is inescapably circular.  To me,
	this means that at best we can only approximate The Truth at
	any given moment­and since we can't make these determinations
	with any significant certainty (e.g., to judge the accuracy of
	our approximations),'A' can only equal 'A' on a localized,
	individual level.

	And yet, 'A=A' is the fundamental assertion of logic.  I think
	there is a tendency to try and expand too far upon this basic
	construction.  The subjective assumptions applied by logic
	tests too often outpace language's ability to accurately map
	the salient factors at hand.  Too much emphasis is placed upon
	how the logic is articulated, with very little attention paid
	to the structure of the logic itself­which, presumably, should
	transcend the language that was used to describe it.

	This presents an interesting­I'd say insurmountable­problem,
	and was essentially the point of my previous two papers. 'A=A.'
	Fine.  But what the hell is an A? And who says so?  The answer
	is that it all depends on who you ask.

	I don't think the fact that we have managed to evolve grammars
	which are effective at managing objects and activities,
	effective at managing the processes of machines, even, is
	evidence that those grammars are universally descriptive of
	our entire shared reality.  Success in a single, limited area
	does not imply universal success on a grand scale, even if
	many times a simple set of rules can exhibit emergent
	behaviors that transcend the original description.

	Consider the following stories.  Observe how these seemingly
	correct articulations of reality work at cross-purposes to the
	protagonist's intentions, yet still manage to exhibit a
	peculiar efficacy all their own:

	1.) Occupied Poland.  A man held a job at a stroller factory.
	His child needed a stroller.  Being short on money, and being
	handy with his tools, the man decided to steal all the
	necessary parts from his workplace and assemble the stroller
	at home.  Wary of arousing suspicion, he limited himself to
	absconding with only a single component each night.  After
	many such nights, the man took an inventory and noticed that
	he had managed to acquire almost all of the parts on his list.
	Finally completing the assembly, the man discovered that
	instead of a new stroller for his son he had assembled a fully
	functional, modular sub-machine gun.

	Does this mean that a stroller is in fact the very same thing
	as a sub-machine gun?  After all, the man had worked in the
	factory for many years and was quite experienced at his job
	(which consisted chiefly of speed-buffing several types of
	polished parts as they came whizzing past his station on an
	assembly line).  In this case, the value of'A' was at first
	disputed; then investigated; and finally, revised.  In the
	end, would it have been sufficient to simply continue
	referring to the finished product as a stroller?  Why or why
	not?

	2.) A radical priest gains increasing infamy with the native
	residents of a Roman-occupied garrison town in Jerusalem.
	After he has been put to death by a civilian
	court­administered by his own people, no less­a cult religion
	springs up around him, and a legend begins to solidify around
	the memory of his living days.  Indeed, the legend glorifies
	even the most mundane aspects of his life.  His story is at
	first spread verbally, but is eventually written down by
	various scribes, disparate of geography and generation, who
	never quite managed to cross paths with the priest or his
	followers.  (Granted, when the priest was supposedly executed,
	the scribes in question had yet to be born.)

	I'm sure you can follow this one to its obvious conclusion.
	After a certain point, the language used to describe a legend
	begins to transcend the actual events, to take on a life of
	its own.  The events themselves remain unobserved, wholly
	obscured from view.  At best: irrelevant.

	The above are clearly examples which reinforce the notion that
	all languages are tautologies.  For this reason,'A=A' can only
	apply universally when the definition of'A' is immutable,
	cannot be tampered with as it travels from one side of the
	equation to the other.  (This fact does tend to break the
	discussion into many different levels, including questions of
	control over so-called shared languages [e.g., dictionaries,
	popular idiom], but the problem of complexity comes part and
	parcel with the problem of precision.)'A=A' may well be
	subjectively true, but the equation is necessarily based upon
	assumptions that may be incorrect.  The uncomfortable truth
	about our knowledge of the world is that it is almost always
	filtered through a mediating source of questionable
	benevolence.  Think about that.  The ultimate impossibility of
	neutrality.  Even if we momentarily eschew the likelihood of
	intentional misrepresentation, we must accept that once
	language escapes our minds and begins to interact with the
	language of others, we lose personal control over its context
	and meaning.  At this point, rationally, we should acknowledge
	that we can no longer verify that'A' means what we think it
	does.  Thus, we come to glimpse the limitations of logic
	itself.

	Language initiates us into a special kind of'cargo cult.' We
	scramble, frothing at the mouth like so many tropical savages,
	attempting to reenact a Reality that we're just certain we've
	experienced, all in the vain hope that we might someday entice
	that Reality to return to us, laden with crates full of movie
	reels, Coca-Cola, and fresh cartons of cheap American
	cigarettes.  At that point, we presume, we'd all be farting
	through silk.

	Violet

DRIFT

tags: 1951, 2026, pink_floyd, tab1

2026.

The sunlight fades and I wonder after my satchel. It's here, buried
somewhere under the snow. Wearily, I prop up both of my arms and thumb
through the entries on my leaf.

I stumble upon a decades-old post.

	1951.  So, I was laid out on the couch (free), face pressed up
	against my camo pillow ( 123.67), wondering if I should pick
	the dead pill bugs out of the fibers of my bath robe, when a
	garish advert for a new Pink Floyd"greatest hits" collection (
	2999.99) ran across the display of my telescreen: Order ECHOES
	now and we'll include blah sqwak blah niner foxtrot delta
	sqwak blah sqwak blah My attention span waned and I lost the
	rest of the advert to random static generated by a mild
	migraine headache (previously acquired), but the damage had
	already been done.  Slowly, the new information sunk in.
	Within a couple of hours I had stumbled into the bedroom.  I
	stood fondling the jewel case of a 2-disc collection of my own
	original music (entitled: ECHOES), desperately trying to
	figure out how Pink Floyd's handlers had managed to bug my
	home.  Motherspammers.  I took a swig of apple juice from a
	glass tumbler on the dresser, then spit it back out again when
	I realized the surface of the drink had been blanketed by a
	layer of dust.  I needed to stop leaving those things laying
	around where anyone could find them.  I resumed staring at the
	jewel case.  The artwork was superior to what I had just seen
	on the telescreen.  Fucking Pink Floyd.  What did I ever do to
	them?  (Besides torturing that girl in the Pink Floyd t-shirt
	at Denny's.) There had to be a reason why they had selected
	me.  I glared at the tumbler for a couple of seconds, then
	back at the jewel case in my hands.  I downed the entire glass
	without tasting the dust.  Apple juice doesn't really ferment,
	but at this point my migraine had wedged itself in-between my
	frontal lobe and another slab of gray matter I wasn't able to
	identify, resulting in a significant impairment to my decision
	making faculties.  Somehow, I kept from vomiting.  Before long
	I detected a handful of splinters in my hand, and came to the
	slow realization that I'd squeezed the jewel case into several
	pieces.  The dust flavor returned to my mouth, resembling the
	sensation of pushing my tongue through ungroomed tufts of fur.
	I threw the tumbler down and stomped back into the living
	room.  The advert was on again.  This time tracking a sequence
	I hadn't noticed during the previous playback.  The message
	ran at ten minute intervals, but I had yet to see it all the
	way through.  The visual rhetoric was contrived, but would
	probably prove effective.  They'd likely sell a billion
	copies.  I swallowed an over the counter pharmaceutical
	designed to combat dizziness and resumed my seat on the couch.
	Staring at a spot two feet above the telescreen, my mind began
	to spin down, drifting to other concerns.  My next shift at my
	corporate front-job was scheduled to begin in just under five
	hours.  Still tasting apple dust (maybe it wasn't really apple
	dust, after all), I chewed at the air with my mouth and then
	dozed off, resigned to whatever dreams might come.
	Approximately two-hundred forty minutes elapsed.  I woke up.
	Two more pill bug carcasses had embedded themselves into the
	folds of my robe.  They no longer seemed to be the most likely
	vector of leaked intelligence.  In point of fact they appeared
	organic.  Quite simplistic.  This new-found lucidity
	intensified as I painted shaving cream onto my chin and then
	accidentally sliced the skin between my nostrils.  It occurred
	to me that Pink Floyd might not really be ripping me off.
	They were probably capable of coming up with such an obvious
	title as ECHOES on their own.  Their boxed set was probably
	being manufactured even as had I decided on the title of my
	own collection.  Still, the overlap rankled.  I guessed that
	it must have been a case of Steam Engine Time.  For
	posterity's sake, I will note here that my own ECHOES
	collection may be sampled at the following address:


And here I had inserted a hypertext link. A pointer to some old,
half-considered project of mine from my early years trying to break
into the music industry. I wince at the memory, irrationally certain
that this will be all they'll find when they finally dig my starved
body out of this house and this snow drift and begin to piece together
the circumstances of my disappearance. Decorated Agent Leaves Behind
Rough Draft Of An Early Internet Posting. Family Denies Any Knowledge
Of Agent's Artistic Endeavors.

I lean back my head against the exposed boards of the attic floor and
observe as small flecks of snow float in and out between the cracks in
the roof. My fingers have become useless now, and I suspect that I'm
too weak to kick through the tile shingling. Troubling, to be sure. As
if to underline the point, I make an attempt to stand up and one of my
legs cracks and falls off onto the floor.

Well, so be it. Another opportunity to reflect on my past.

Reviewing this material I have to admit, I've had a good run.

IN THE END, NOTHING WORKS

tags: 2079, eva, gordon, tab2

In spite of his back, Thomas was up early the next morning. It hurt to
be out of bed. He slipped on his robe and dialed a reasonable
temperature for his bones. The floor felt cold under his feet. A draft
tickled his scrotum as he dragged himself down the hallway, robe
swishing freely between his legs.

Thomas found no paper on the front step.

Therefore, he reasoned, no newspaper could actually exist.

The number of people required to produce such an artifact could, quite
simply, never be forced together, never be entrusted to bring such a
project to fruition. Thomas dismissed the idea as self-evident lunacy.
As with other would-be conspiracies, this"newspaper" business, if it
were ever truly attempted, would immediately run afoul of man's signal
inability to cooperate effectively. The whole endeavor would end in
disaster. Thomas pictured a management team showing up at the office
and attempting to corral the so-called"newsmen" into some semblance of
order. Let's put this edition to bed, the managers would say. Sure,
their subordinates would reply, we'll get right on top of that, boss.
And then they would go to lunch. The whole concept of a metropolis of
workers, each synchronizing his movements to the other, all in some
effort to compile a grand codex of halftoned words and photographs...
Ostensibly a periodical source of news and sports-related
information... Implausible wasn't the word. The idea was like
something that would come out of a liberal arts college. Thomas
understood that in the end, nothing really worked. Thus it followed
that no newspaper would or could be delivered to Thomas' door, on this
or any other morning.

Thomas looked down. Perhaps he was surprised to see that the newspaper
still wasn't where it should have been. He wiped the condensation from
the front of his visor and planted his feet in the doorway, fixing his
gaze upon the concrete stoop. Why was he here? He meant specifically.
His eyes focused on a rough patch of masonry, shaped, vaguely, like a
copy of THE NEW YORK TIMES. He was slowly becoming aware that his lips
had chapped.

What...

He tried to remember why he was standing there, holding the door open,
facing out onto the street. Nothing came to mind, save for an
awareness of the relentless, frozen sheets of air that were blowing
past his face. After several moments, he became enticed by the sounds
emanating from inside the house, and so he retreated back into the
living room. He sat down by the fireplace and started to pull on the
hair that protruded from his chin. He would often affect this pose
whenever he found himself confused.

Presently, Eva came in with the tea.

Thomas regarded her suspiciously, conjecturing that she must have
prepared this tea herself, not simply poured it, pre-mixed, from a jug
or a bottle delivered by the government truck. It would later prove
that his suppositions had been correct. But at present, Eva refused to
discuss her inspiration. Why organic tea? He wrinkled his eyebrows
with palpable irritation and stared at her, knowing perfectly well
that his tendency towards interpreting simple results as the fruit of
complex machinations should not distract him so long that his tea
would go cold. I'm being silly, he thought to himself. Next, he'd be
accusing her of inventing, then hiding, and finally denying the
existence of, his daily newspaper.

He resolved not to say anything about it for now.

The feed to his visor had gone dark, sometime, he thought, in the past
week. The boys down at the switching station had gotten so wrapped up
in their chatter and practical jokes that the feed had ceased to be
maintained. This group of teenage boys had allowed any number of feed
pools to become irretrievably poisoned. Obviously, the problem had yet
to be amended. The cause of the service disruption was the logical
result of leaving unsupervised boys in charge of the running system.
There. Blunt common sense. No conspiracy required.

Though it could have been sabotage.

From the perspective behind Thomas' visor, everything had simply gone
black. Neighborhood residents were skeptical that the city's plans for
replacing the youths with middle-aged housewives would yield a network
any more reliable than the one that already existed. The real problem
was that this new technology simply didn't scale. You couldn't expect
everyone to get online at the same time without ramping up the
system's capacity. Unsupervised boys or no. Thomas doubted if any
demographic could keep the thing running without the assistance of
authorized Green technicians. Of course, that would cost money. On a
related note, did the Green Consortium really think that these
middle-aged women would subject themselves to working for lower wages
than what they could make staying at home? Like the aforementioned
"newspaper" idea, the scheme simply didn't wash.

How the networks had ever been built in the first place was also a
damned mystery. The secrets of net construction had apparently passed
into the realm of myth­an area where Thomas carefully abstained from
treading. Just what had inspired Jeff Bezos to invent the Netscape
browser? The world might never know for sure. To be certain, claims
had been staked out by all of the usual suspects: Church leaders,
government agencies, atheist intellectuals­the full gamut of
unreliable sources. But Thomas was confident he knew the real score.
He had realized early in life that they all made up stories­lies, in
fact­that weren't supported by the available evidence. Anyone who
advanced a positive claim was merely covering an angle. No one knew
the real history of the Green. Or, at the very least, he was certain
there had been mistakes in the recording.

Just as well, then, that young people not be misled by any wild tales
of human beings working together towards a collective goal. It might
make for a ripping yarn, fine, but this sort of cooperation just
wasn't going to happen. Not that he could see. In his experience,
human beings were incapable of effective organization, even if
sometimes his mind liked to hallucinate collaboration amongst his
enemies. It would make more sense if the networks had simply grown
themselves.

You had to market your trash to the trash men, or else they would
stubbornly refuse to take it away. Thomas knew this to be true, but
still he couldn't find the time to arrange his various bags and
receptacles pleasantly enough to attract their attention. Instead,
garbage would pile up for several weeks before he'd finally be forced
to trudge down to the edge of the yard, spit on the road, and go to
work creating a minimally effective layout. These city trash men
thought they were critics. Thomas knew full well that as insiders to
the waste reclamation industry, their own garbage would never be
subjected to the ridicule of their peers. Instead, a trash man's
refuse would be hauled off periodically, sight-unseen. Thomas resented
the situation because it just wasn't fair. He could feel his hate for
the double-standard solidifying in his back. Why did consumers let the
government get away with this?

Thomas spied his friend Gordon coming up the road.

"What up, G?" he asked.

"I dunno, man. Field trip around the sun, I guess."

Thomas fingered his visor until the face of his friend came into
focus. Gordon had that look about him, as if he'd just been slipped
counterfeit money. (Money. Another conspiratorial delusion. Thomas was
undecided as to whether this particular fiction yieled sufficient
utility to warrant his playing along. Convenient, since he was usually
broke.)

"What are you doing to your face," asked Gordon.

"What do you mean?"

"There, your face. Why are you moving your hand around as if you were
manipulating some sort of device, or making some sort of minute
adjustments to your eyebrows. There's nothing there. Just that wrinkly
old skin wrapped around your skull."

Thomas moved to punch Gordon in the arm. Just then, he slipped off of
the stairs and toppled to the ground. He felt his hip shift out of its
socket as he struck the hard stone beneath him. Resigned to the pain,
he put his hand down in the snow and groaned.

"Can you help me up, please?" he said."My damn ass is broken."

Perversely, Thomas' visor clicked through its boot-up sequence and
once again resumed service.

Click. Click. Click.

But the settings were futzed. Thomas could see through Gordon's pants.

"Nice briefs," he said.

END BOOK ONE

BOOK TWO

THE GREEN

tags: 1918

Mary lit candles while I made some adjustments to the sound levels and
then paced off the markers on the stage. The trees were turning up
their leaves and the cold breeze against my face indicated that the
sooner we got started, the better. The weather was in transition
again. I noticed that in the diminished light, the curtain seemed to
be reflecting the green from all around us. I looked down at my arms
and the same effect was showing against my skin. Mary smiled
acknowledgement from her corner of the stage.

I faced toward the swaying grass. The movement of the hillside caught
hold of me immediately­I felt it pull against my stomach­but once the
playback started I had little trouble falling into the correct rhythm.
Insects in the trees began to organize their shrieks around the
activity on stage. Presently, our surroundings had settled into smooth
synchronization with the machines. The shift between recognition and
acceptance was instantaneous, complete.

I noticed after a while that this had all transpired without incident,
and so with the usual assistance from Mary I began the second phase of
the rite. Intonation. One voice, then two, joining with the electronic
pulses, slipping into the fold, setting down a canopy atop the
invisible scaffolding which was still emerging from the loudspeakers.
We erected a shelter of sound, continuing with the program until
almost all movement within sight had come to a stop. Even the grass
had ceased its inverted pendulum swing. A single drop of water
splashed against my face and I winced almost imperceptibly, but did
not waver in my vocalizations. We both turned to face the hillside.

Then silence, from the both of us, and all at once it was over.

After an indeterminate period, Mary began to extinguish the candles. I
worked my way around the stage, detaching speakers and re-coiling
cords and plugs. The hillside below remained resolutely still
throughout this secondary performance, our movements a sort of encore
begging the mute appreciation of spring foliage. This silent effect
would persist for weeks before finally returning to normal. Mary and I
would fall back into our own familiar patterns. Clanging about. We
would complain that we missed the children, or that the government had
evolved beyond all recognition. It was comfortable, for the most part.
But the trees on the hillside were more thoughtful. They would hold
still for a few more days, perhaps as a reminder of what had already
passed. While I might climb back up to the stage some afternoon,
planning to relax with a book, my consciousness of the synchronicity
would have already expended itself. The resonance would be completely
drained. I was sure it would be the same for Mary.

I slept better that night than I had in a long time. A decade. The
temptation was always to think that if we'd take time out for this
observance just a little more often, if we'd simply make an effort to
keep these sentiments in our daily thoughts... Well, you know how
these things tend to work out. The truth is­and this is as important
as any other detail you'd care to focus on­the rite was only to be
performed once a year. That's how it had always been. And the
tradition, I think, was correct. Well-founded. The empty spaces were
in fact as significant as those caressed by the resonance of conscious
observance. The transition from one state to another could only be
measured along this sort of blunt, descending staircase. Dividing
awareness from its counterpart, one state from its successor, empty to
all filled up. How else could we perceive change at all?

As the rains started, I scooped up the last of the cables and snapped
shut the plastic container where they were stored when they were not
being used. A thoughtful crease appeared along the ridge of my
eyebrows, and Mary quickly rolled out the awning over the stage, just
as the downpour really began to break loose. We locked hands and
wandered the stone pathway back to the house, a silent song on our
lips as the rain beat clumps of our hair down against our ears. It
felt as if we were aging in reverse.

Rainwater spread over the green fallen leaves, sticking them to the
concrete, bulletin boarding them from the edge of the woods all the
way up to the house. We kicked them along as we made our way through
the spring shower, splashing forward to the doorway and its steady,
house-shaped warmth.

Until next year.

EPISODE IX

tags: 1957, margaret, paris_mold, tab1, the_chief

I couldn't get the lid off.

I bashed the base of the jar against the corner of a nearby table
(away from my body, so as to avoid the spray of flying smart glass)
and kicked the resulting debris out of my path. Moved back to the
terminal to finish transcribing. I had the bulk of the message keyed
in by the time the big kitchen door dissolved into its frame.

In sauntered Paris Mold.

He smoothly traversed the tile floor, making a beeline for the object
in my hand (and by extension, for me). He peered at my stats,
observing my progress without bothering to explain his presence.
Annoyed, I flashed him my teeth and continued typing. I carefully
unlatched the bag under my table with an obscured foot.

Paris' gaze slid from my keyboard to my shoulders to my scrambled face
in a continuous gesture. He maintained a blank expression that I
couldn't have mustered even with the help of electronics.

He cocked his head slightly to the left and began to speak. I noticed
there was a huge smudge of dirt on his cheek.

A detail such as that could be my anchor in the moments to come.

"That's one hell of a portable," Paris observed, nodding in the
direction of my table-top device. As if in response, the pressure
screen's broadcast antenna extended itself and locked into place.

Without warning, the room folded back upon itself, pulling all sorts
of visual transforms that reminded me of the programming exercises
given to small children at school. It appeared to be modeling the
cellular automata of snowflakes, tree branches, and the flocking
patterns of birds. Most of the standard primitives.

I gritted my teeth. Being this close to Paris Mold was like chewing
power cables. I knew I wouldn't be able to keep my head straight for
long, so I leaned in towards him and smiled in feeble agreement.

"Yes, boss."

Paris coughed.

Purposefully, I fastened the strap on my helmet, then clamped shut my
eyes until my sensors reached equilibrium. I risked one last glance at
Paris Mold, tightened my scrotum and tapped the device in my bag with
the tip of my boot.

There sounded a short series of digital squawks. Then the whole place
went wobbly and the walls began to collapse.

A look came over Paris' face. As the ceiling rushed to meet the floor,
he realized what I'd done. His expression was no longer inscrutable.

Still, this was going to kill me, too.

I plopped in another pat of margarine and inhaled over the sizzling
frying pan. Folding the wrinkled bits of paper into the eggs, a series
of disconnected sentence fragments slowly came into view. I closed my
eyes and surveyed the partial collage. Three signatures in all. These
were definitely the forms I'd sought, but the fragments seemed
incomplete. Something was missing.

Tabasco.

I thumbed the labels of three different brands (there were several on
the shelf). Overwhelmed by the available choices, I went ahead and
emptied them all into the mix. A brief shot of green-smelling flame
licked the canopy above the stove. Spam!

I batted the fire with my spatula. Left-handed, because I was still
holding onto the frying pan. I had to guess about where the tongues of
flame were going to dart next.

In wandered Paris Mold. We didn't make eye contact; we couldn't
really, on account of my being blind.

I assumed he had come to apologize.

Mold was no longer my boss. But still he would offer me work from time
to time, bundled with an awkward expression of sympathy. He felt
responsible for my blindness and therefore made every attempt to wipe
clean his conscience by providing me with advance notice of his job
listings. I tolerated it only because I needed the work.

"Can't sleep?" he asked.

"Horseshit. I'm trying to finish my taxes."

"Still slaving away at that, eh? The deadline's coming up, you know,"
he chided."Why don't you hire an accountant?"

"These days, I've got plenty of time to waste. Besides, I was hungry."

My finger hovered over the"eight" key while Paris regarded my
handiwork. I wasn't about to enter negotiations without some sort of
leverage­even if that meant blowing his forehead into spun glass.
Paris wrinkled his eyebrows and made a disappointed sigh. So, this was
going to be it. With a flick of my finger, a shotgun would descend
from the ceiling and project a hot lead sandwich through Paris' face.
I judged from the sound of his low, even breathing that he was
standing right on top of the the marker. Almost...

The bandages on my face began to itch. I twitched, trying to adjust
the strips of gauze with my nose before they slid completely off of my
face. This must have created an awkward spectacle, given the
situation.

"What is that? Sign language?" Paris snickered.

A flash of rage. My eyes started to burn. I punched the"eight" key
vigorously. Eat this, fuck sack!

Then: A long, piercing beep as my keypad's buffer filled with"eights."

Why wasn't it working? I looked down and saw nothing.

It transpired that my hands had slipped off of home row. I had been
mashing the wrong key.

The realization dawned, as my wife used to say, too little, too late.

Paris Mold retaliated with extreme prejudice.

By force of habit, he went straight for my eyes.

They said I had been chewing on my left hand, apparently trying to get
at my chronometer. I complained that I hadn't managed to kill Paris
Mold, period, no matter what or when I'd tried. He was just so...
there. You know? Something to do with his training, I guessed. It was
this last remark that got me pulled from the operation.

They wanted to know if I was through wasting their time, if I was
ready to stop stalling. When had I planned to follow through on the
objective? Was I really so disoriented that I couldn't maintain
narrative continuity? And what was this nonsense I'd been ranting
about? Had I experienced fear in the presence of the Molds?

The words"dishonorable discharge" were bandied about over my
restrained body­the first time such words had been mentioned in
relation to my person. It sounded to me like a threat. I could do
nothing but foam and thrash.

Had I really failed so completely?

The Molds still walked the Earth.

The Chief phoned while I was still strapped to the table. He claimed
that my wife had become pregnant.

I asked him how he knew.

THE PARTISAN

tags: 1949, 1950, 1951, 1953, 1954, mother, tab1

1

Mother didn't love me.

Well, who knows, but it sure was hard to tell. I assume she wanted me
gone by graduation. Pushing me out of the nest fit symmetrically with
first having introduced me to its warmth.

Only, I hadn't needed to be pushed.

Whatever the case, I wouldn't have stuck around once I'd secured my
means of escape. In fact, my childhood agenda came to center upon
vacating the nest at the earliest possible convenience. I told her as
much on a handful of occasions, which may have been an early source of
her resentment towards me.

Drifting, there. Such thoughts are useless for filling out my report.

I dribble a handful of words into the document and save before making
a trip to the men's room. Time to call it a night.

Passing through the marketing department, I ponder the desks of the
new-hires, noticing for the first time that their cubicle partitions
and arm-thick contract binders serve as ballast against the
accumulation of personal effects. The design is intentional. In my
first few months at the company I never would have suspected such
subtle architectures of control.

I round the corner to the men's room and take a seat in the furthest
stall.

After a few minutes I'm faced with a problem.

No toilet paper.

2

I am out of work.

Real work, that is. My study group has been shut down.

It's the Greens. They're everywhere. Though admittedly they're less
numerous than in recent years.

Take my former manager. Matters of consequence on his mind. A month
ago he retracted our billet after deciding that my group had fielded
too many atheists. A security risk, he said.

What is this, the 1910s?

For a while now I've been sitting at home, steadily freezing solid in
my poorly insulated study. Not the best working environment, and I'm
not getting much done. On top of it all, Mother won't leave me alone.
I've had to resist the urge to flag her for rendition. I like to think
I've made the right decision.

This morning I discover that the Greens have cut loose my former
manager. I'm digging around in his account when the call comes in.

We're back on.

Patent disputes in the hinterlands.

The traffic orb on my desk glows a suggestive blue as I pick up the
phone to contact my team.

3

Well, that didn't last long.

Back to retail.

I work the counter between calls because no one else knows how to
operate the products we sell. Customers roll in and then they roll
back out, au gratin waves of body fat wrapped in plastic garments. The
typical specimen reeks of a public cafeteria.

A man wanders into my zone and starts fidgeting with the boxes of
electronic equipment. He picks up a box and then sets it back down
without examining it. He repeats this awkward choreography at several
different positions along the isle. His movements seem aimless and
there appears to be no intelligent pattern underlying his
investigations.

What is going on here? The answer is that I don't care.

"Is there something I can assist you with, sir?"

Contractually, I cannot allow his anti-commercial behavior to pass
unchallenged. I maneuver myself between him and the shelves and then
read him one of the scripts I've been required to memorize.

"I am certified in twenty-seven dialects of formal sales semantics,
with a top-five ranking amongst appliance technicians in the local
Green. It would be my pleasure to interpret your needs today. Thank
you for choosing AT&T."

"Son, let me ask you a question. Do you actually like working here?"

I have to admit, there's no easy way to answer. I don't let it show on
my face.

From an obscured storage pouch the man produces a business card and
communicates it smoothly into my hand. Affixed to its underside is a
thousand dollar bill. I turn the tiny rectangle in my hand, staring at
it quizzically. What has just happened here? Gradually, I realize that
the currency is fraudulent. The thousand dollar bill is a facsimile,
printed on the reverse of the business card. I smile and the man
lights up, returning my grin. I swear I can hear his face skipping
gears.

"Five minutes of your time and that t-note becomes real, deposits into
the account of your choice. Spend it however you like."

It's hardly pocket change, and of course I'm well beyond broke, so I
gesture for him to proceed with his pitch.

Before I know it, he has me filling out paperwork, signing papers.
"Signing your life away," he announces, and smiles.

He doesn't seem to care about my previous experience.

4

I'm being sent to the front.

Well, one of the fronts.

In modern warfare, someone has to keep the breathers running. My
orders are to install hotfixes and updates on the machines that
control the mobile flow tanks, which in turn feed the breathers. We
aren't permitted to install unauthorized programs, but everyone I've
ever worked with does so anyway.

Our Sergeant hosts a fileserver from his backpack.

The men of the platoon have taken to calling me"Mother." I assume this
is in reference to my careful maintenance of their breather
apparatuses. I don't find it amusing in the slightest.

In spite of improvements to our equipment, signal degradation
continues to render the mail unreliable. The satellite gear proved
flaky and we dumped it after the first week in the field. At higher
elevations we're sometimes able to establish line of sight with the
fleet.

Mother would probably like to hear from me. Maybe I'll drop her a line
the next time we're up the mountain.

5

Responding to aggressive stimuli, I discharge my service rifle into
the crowd.

My round exits the back of a man's skull and strikes the man standing
directly behind him. It then travels on to the next man standing
behind him. For a split second the perforated heads sync up, their
wounds aligning in a peculiar sort of optical tributary. As quickly as
it is formed, the channel collapses and the illusion of coherence is
lost.

This dynamic tableaux has been observed by several hovering cameras.
I'm struck by the way each unit edges past its neighbor, vying for a
better angle on the corpses lying at my feet. They seem to
deliberately ignore me and my fellow soldiers. I don't understand why.

A hand falls on my shoulder. It is the Sergeant.

What's he doing here, I think to myself.

Oh, right.

6

Prison clothing is uncomfortable. In my case it fits well enough. Some
of my peers have been less fortunate.

I keep in step with the other prisoners. Occasionally, I catch my
reflection in the back of another inmate's jacket. Even out of uniform
we're unmistakably soldiers.

A guard shouts obscenities through a bullhorn and the man in front of
me stumbles. I think that I recognize him. Latino, approximately
twenty years of age. Infantry, definitely. Could it be?

When the guards aren't looking I kick him in the back.

"Keep up, asshole."

He gasps, flashing me the secret hand sign of our platoon.

I'm convinced now, and kick him again, this time less carefully. Less
the actor. I have him on the ground by the time the guard with the
bullhorn interrupts.

"Move, faggots!"

We do as he says.

The data has changed hands.

7

I am free.

Released.

The spring sun sinks into my face. Mother has passed away at some
point during my incarceration.

I convalesce at home for two days before calling in to be reactivated.

The boys will be anxious to hear about my experience behind bars. I
wonder how many of us are left.

8

And now it's back to the grind. Nothing has changed about the war
we've been fighting, though the locales tend to shift with the
seasons. We manage the periodic disorientation by assigning colors to
each theater of operations. This quarter we're in the Red. The
projection is that by next quarter we'll be in the Black.

One of our little jokes.

Oh yes, and no White after Labor Day.

Staffing is flexible, pending new developments. This rotation we're at
home. For us, domestic deployment (as with training) constitutes
leave. The boys are all present and we fall into our familiar rhythm
as we pace the perimeter Capitol Hill.

A froth of reporters churns to and fro between our lines. The latest
fashion in Washington is a press pass that authorizes the bearer to
cross military checkpoints with impunity. A stupid idea, to be sure,
but nobody asked my opinion. The cameras flit about as a few of the
reporters spill over in my direction.

One approaches me, brandishing a microphone.

"Corporal! What's your take on the continuance of the war? Can you
give me seven syllables on the reinstatement of compulsory military
service? The draft?"

I regard her from behind my service rifle.

Seven syllables? Let's see.

"I'm afraid I enlisted."

HALF-DANDY IN THE RUBBISH FACTORY

tags: 1918, lonnie, pennis_mold

Standing in the mirror and seeing that without a belt, these new
slacks are simply not going to stay up. I'm in danger of tipping the
balance between classical style and practicality, but I mustn't be
caught off guard if anyone should happen to catch a glimpse of me in
my civilian underclothes. I find something suitable in my closet and
pin myself into the pants, clipping a handful of mesh transceivers to
my blouse before pulling on the pressure suit and chiming for a ride.
Down in the tunnels, I don't want my breeches coming loose, getting
wound around my legs inside of the suit. Before exiting the apartment,
I remove a number of petals from a rose and press them between the
pages of my notebook. I savor the scent for a few moments before
concealing the book within my pressure suit and heading out the door.

At the entrance to the lowest tunnels I pause before a monstrous
installation, a war machine from some forgotten conflict of decades
past, and affix my collapsed flower to a placard situated below the
airplane. It is humid enough that the petals stick to its slick
surface with little effort. Even in this diffuse lighting, the mighty
nose and wings of the plane gleam immodestly, and I am ashamed to
experience a wave of exhilaration, prostrate as I am before such a
reverential display of murderous articulation. I gather myself and
proceed to the elevators.

In my mind it is all quite different than this.

I embody two discreet realities. Suffering alone, I am continuously in
peril of favoring one reality over the other. As of late, a new
barricade has been thrown up, an obstruction that permanently divides
these tandem perspectives of the rubbish factory. Necessity demands
that I pick a side and entrench my position, but my heart cries out
for reconciliation.

I take solace in the fact that, being made of plaster, the dividing
wall will eventually bow under its own weight.

If memory serves, a similar plaster wall erected around the
masterpiece Il Cenacolo protected it from the onslaught of mechanized
warfare, early in the last century. No one expected a fresco to stand
against mortar fire, but here our fellow Leonardo had produced a hare
from his conical hat. The wall stood firm though the building around
it crumbled to dust.

I see now that such a wall can be made to serve a useful purpose. Do I
really wish for all the evil in my thoughts to pass so freely? It is
at moments such as these that I find it crucial to get something down
on paper, before mind's effluvium carries mind itself away on a raft
of sudden, fatiguing currents. In truth, I write to cleanse the
palate. There is a bad taste in my mouth after three weeks toiling on
the latest factory inventory. Lonnie plays Microsoft SOLITAIRE at his
desk while I scribble in my notebook.

Furthering my previous thought, let us now consider the plaster wall
in my mind as ballast. A shift in perspective to interpret the empty,
unused spaces as the most precious of cargo: a portal to new
understanding.

I boot up a fresh sheet of paper, reflecting upon the true nature of
metaphor as filler. A great sewer main has burst in my mind, carrying
forth copious amounts of shit and piss­both having been lodged quite
stubbornly in the pipe. This is the opposite of the wall. I observe as
each new parcel of feces floats away, bobbling down the stream. There
is something that cannot be contained within a mind such as my own, a
mind that is slowly breaking up, dividing into dull, gray cubicles.

It seems that we have come full circle.

Which way is it going to be, then? Walls to divide, or portals to
connect?

They are both the same. Textures that are defined, even as they are
described, by the perceiving apparatus.

There is a great wealth of surface detail to be absorbed, to be
sorted, and I do carry on exploring, but I find that there is only one
true form of currency, here in the rubbish factory, and that is the
universal reserve of the personal imagination. It proves to be an
aether that never devalues, that is never appraised relative to
markets or governments­it is the ineffable substance that constitutes
essential wealth.

Reaching this point of minor resolution, I close up my notebook and
stuff it into one of the compartments of my pressure suit. A whistle
sounds, groaning, pixelated. A gavel is banged and my mental courtroom
clears of solicitors, making room for me to think other thoughts, to
reconnect the cycling belt of my psyche back to the idling gears of
its cadaver.

It is time for lunch.

We men clamber into the mess hall, which has not yet reached fifty
percent capacity. Two- and three-man teams are clotted into
flesh-colored scabs around the edges of each steel table. We dine on
whatever has been set down in front of us by the kitchen staff.
Between bites of supper, we trade raucous barbs.

"And what, pray tell, is the value of this thing called beauty," a
colleague stands up and asks, apparently to no one.

A few of the men turn around in their seats to face the speaker. Some
of them get up and leave altogether. But most simply pick over their
lunch trays and stare at their food, seemingly oblivious to the
philosophical gauntlet that has been thrown down.

"Ah, yes, the dominant minority," a familiar voice chimes in.

"Rather, I should say, an aristocracy of merit," counters the original
speaker, earning smiles from every participating table.

I appreciate exchanges like this, here in the lunch room, as they
afford us men the chance to unwind between extended shifts in the
tunnels. The work can be grueling, the hours long. The repetitive
plunging of gloved hands or shielded feet into the crowded arteries of
the sanitation lines coarsens men to fellowship. But here, we make our
own peace with our situation. Here, we arrive on the cusp of our
destinies by the strain and sweat of our honest toil. It is a kind of
progress.

Before things really get started, a triumvirate of management stride
into the room, enjoying a buffer nearly three meters in diameter as
they pass between the huddles of workmen. I grip my lunch tray with
trepidation as they float past my table, unsure of the purpose for
their visit.

What I notice first is the impeccable styling of their attire. Even
when down in the tunnels, these gentlemen always­ always ­keep their
gear clean. In the general low-light conditions of the sewer, it is
their bejeweled teeth and resplendent gold necklaces which can first
be seen approaching, glittering through the humid mists of municipal
waste. At times, the ricocheting reflections may cause an entire face
to disappear, or at least, they may seem to disappear when one's
vision is obscured by a pressure suit mask. But here in the mess hall,
we all remove our helmets to talk and eat. Here, the glare does not
obscure but instead serves to illuminate.

The small group approaches now, my own supervisor striding to the
fore. His low-slung denim splits into a Cheshire grin of plaid cotton
undergarments. The suede of my supervisor's sneakers appears to be
freshly brushed, having accumulated no floating particles of detritus
or dirt. His tasteful, oversize polo tee asserts the classic dialectic
of red and white striping, situated masterfully alongside a deep blue
rectangle bearing numerous white stars, each of self-evident, sacred
significance. I am somewhat taken aback by this sudden explosion of
color. It is a moment I cherish even as it overwhelms me, and I
briefly clench my eyelids together, attempting to trigger my mesh
camera, to stream the scene into the pages of my department's
distributed memory.

As the managers pass my table they hesitate, stop, and then double
back.

My supervisor's nostrils incline perceptibly. As one, the group turns
to face me. I swallow the food in my mouth, which goes down the wrong
way, and I begin to worry about the visible stubble on my face. How
must I appear to them?

"Yo, ya'll have been selected, son! We're up in this place to request
that you authorize a temporary application fee of two billion credits
to secure your promotion to management. Know what I'm sayin', cousin?
To authenticate this ceremonial enhancement, please press here, fool.
Fa sho."

I place my thumb onto the reader and press down, weakly. This elicits
a further vocalization.

"Peace. Five thousand, G."

And then they are gone.

I am quite literally bowled over, and my lunch tray pinwheels to the
floor in pursuit of my limp form. Lonnie, faithful companion of lo
these many years, helps me back to my seat as I slowly regain my
composure. Gradually, the ramifications of what has just happened
begin to sink in. Promotion will mean an increase in my pension, new
quarters... and an unlimited civilian clothing allowance. I have just
been created anew. Afforded a repeat birth. I switch on all mesh
transceivers and begin capturing every possible angle of my
surroundings, preserving this vital moment, etching a record for the
corporate archives, for my descendants, for their inheritors.

"What up, son," Lonnie chides, adopting the formal tone of management
in a sort of mockery of their stiff, proper elocution."These negroes
done lost they minds."

I nod my head slightly, acutely aware of the expanse that now
separates our respective circumstances. The great plaster partition
has come crashing apart in my mind, and in this instant, the dejected,
isolated occupants of each chamber are crushed together, the sticks of
pious liberty bundled into a final, immobilizing unity. I eschew my
former concerns, beholden as they were to considerations of slop and
waste. The combustion of my thoughts is now fueled solely by the light
of its own countenance.

Lacking a prepared response, I yield to myself completely.

My face droops into my hand. A bent elbow evenly supports the
increased weight of my skull, flesh and excessively powdered hair. I
find that I have grown suddenly weary of contemplating the great
weight of my responsibility. Lonnie will come to appreciate this
fatigue if ever he is called up, into the obdurate embrace of his
betters.

But at this moment I cannot expect him to fully understand. Not while
he still finds himself tethered to the undercarriage of our labyrinth
of shifting human shit.

I look at him and it is obvious he cannot understand what I have
become.

"Dandy," I finally reply, employing the crude language of the tunnels.
I burp towards the mess hall out of politeness. In the resulting
silence I pick at the visor of my helmet.

Lonnie makes a face, forlorn, but still he says nothing.

I wave him away. I excuse myself and leave my tray for the staff to
clear.

I am already running next month's numbers in my head.

Fitting my manicured hands to the master controls of the rubbish
factory.

ASDFASDF

tags: 1979, erik, roger, tab2

Thomas adjusted the focus of his visor and opened three new chat
windows. He joined the appropriate channel in each window, issued
greetings to everyone, and then banked his fighter jet into a cloud,
dodging enemy fire. He checked his screens but it looked like everyone
else was idling.

Roger crushed the soda can beneath her foot and stomped into the
building. Behind her, Erik dribbled the rest of his beverage into the
gutter and followed suit. Both of them were late for duty. <Thomas_>
Oh well, here we are again, crammed into this office when it's windy
and gray outside. No cold London breeze in our faces today, boys! By
the time you read this, I'll have flattened quite a bit of real
estate, I'd imagine. Oh well, where does the time go.

<Rog> Is someone stroking you off over there?
<Thomas_> That's offensive. And just where the spam have you two been.
<erikw> i'm so spamming tired

A flash crossed all of their screens at once. A vibrant pink square
that obscured half of the desktop, causing Roger (at least) to
misdirect her fire towards a friendly.

Folks, RDO (Regular Day Off) Since we are starting a run on training
next week and through September for various classes (other course
scheduling to be announced), we will be depending on all to help keep
our levels up as well as possible, as you have these last couple of
weeks. Since Thursday and Friday are always busy days anyway, we'd
like to ask anyone with their RDO on Thurs and Fri to work OT during
our critical time. That can be up to 8 hours starting between 7am-9am,
and possibly a couple more depending on how busy it is. Then from next
week on until further notice, we'd like those that will, to work OT on
their RDOs between the same starting times, with the possible 2 hrs
extra on top of the 8 if business needs are heavy. If you cannot work
the full 8 but can work 4 hrs between 10am-2pm or 11am-3pm (same for
this Thur & Fri), that would help out during the lunch periods. Of
course working through lunch is also authorized w/ break splitting
until further notice.

Thomas cleared the flash and flitted his eyes back to incoming. Roger
and Erik actually finished reading the entire message.

The result of their decision was immediately apparent.

Rockets in the air. Thomas vectored wildly, but it was clear that
convergence was only a matter of time. The air support team (the happy
trio, all together) cursed simultaneously.

The potential flight paths whirling in front of them were useless.
TelemeTry was lagging again. The sky was infinite white on every side.

Roger and Erik backed off of the target and regained control of their
vehicles.

Thomas, for his part, had lost the ground.

asdfasdfasdfasdfasdf

<erikw> i wasnt going to come in at all today but it turns out i've
already used up my personal days for the rest of the year. it's
fucking january!
<Rog> I was in the cafeteria and I heard Sarge talking spam about us
not getting 20 minute breaks anymore after this quarter
<erikw> fuck that! argh. that does it, i'm deleting his account on
webster. no more free zero day for him!
<Thomas_> Hey guys.
<Thomas_> I am SO not working overtime this weekend

asdfasdf

Thomas drummed his fingers on his desk absentmindedly. Presently,
UTF-8 characters appeared in front of his eyes, translucent, but still
rather annoying as they partially obscured his vision. He finished
logging his flight ticket and got himself up, out of his chair.

As usual, Erik and Roger were a few minutes longer in getting their
acts together. This was exacerbated by Erik accidentally brushing his
elbows against Roger's breasts, several times, in the space of just a
few minutes.

After she'd finished repeatedly punching him in the gut, both airmen
caught up with Thomas and took their places next to him in the chow
line, where they casually compared the features of their newly
upgraded visors.

"I'm always waiting for you guys. Spam like this is why we lose so
many airplanes."

Thomas held his serious expression for several seconds, and then they
all burst into laughter.

I'M JUST SAYING

tags: 1979, christopher, violet

"Every time I walk past your desk you're reading that damned feed."

"Do you see the flaw in this?" Violet asked."Every time you see me
reading the feeds, you're away from your own desk. You'd never even
know I was breaking the rules if you weren't up, walking around,
breaking them yourself."

Frankly, there had been little to distinguish her until fairly
recently. The spring quarter had perhaps brought about a kind of
transformation. Certainly, she'd taken well to his instruction.
Christopher mused (to himself) that perhaps what he admired in her
most was his own reflection. But this was a profoundly disagreeable
notion, and he discarded the thought. The light from the office window
played softly in her hair. He would try again. There could be no harm
in trying.

"No, Violet, Newton did not hold that the Green was eternal. A
gentleman of his era would not even have been able to perceive the
Green."

"Now you're just lying," said Violet.

"Nullius en verba," sighed Chris."Trust, but verify. Or in other
words, do your own research. You see, it doesn't matter if you believe
me or not. This isn't a relative matter. The Green did not exist in
the seventeenth century­it's not merely an assertion, it's an
incontrovertible fact."

"According to your essentialist bias," Violet said."But what are
'facts,' anyway?"

There was no answer. It was a meaningless question.

Violet's mouth creased acutely at its corners, her eyes tracing the
arc of the golden ratio as Christopher shifted in his work trousers,
unsure of how to proceed. He could no longer remember what he had been
trying to say, or why. He stopped typing in order to formulate his
response.

"All you need to know about Newton is this: his work on optics may
have indeed set the stage for the eventual overturning of his work on
motion."

"That's seriously not even true," said Violet."Einstein was very clear
that his own work should not be seen to supersede Newton's, but merely
to build upon the foundations laid by his able predecessor. Newtonian
mechanics is still quite viable from virtually any perspective. Even
today."

"I'm just saying," she added.

"And yet, you cling to this notion that Newton knew of­communed
with­the Green. That he had some sort of access to the network."

"Didn't he?" asked Violet, rolling her eyes behind her face-mask.

"No," said Chris, finding himself increasingly frustrated, in more
ways than one.

Violet drifted away. She thought to herself: When I lay my head down,
now, my dreams are as stories, are no longer as the psychotic, Dadaist
collages to which I've become accustomed. Humble, linear narratives.
But what is more important to me? Lucid memories of my childhood or
the removal of this block, the lifting of this veil that has
descended, that so complicates my machinery? She was unaware of how
she appeared, laying prostrate over her desk. Consequently, she was
oblivious to her co-worker's mounting discomfort.

Christopher excused himself and retreated to the men's room.

He latched the stall. He took down his trousers and began to
masturbate furiously into the toilet. His heartbeat rapidly outpaced
the ticking of his chronometer. His breathing quickened appreciably as
the sweat from his forehead poured into his eyes.

Presently, a long, slow moan escaped from his lips.

It was then that Christopher noticed the presence of a co-worker,
seated in the adjacent stall.

"I'm just saying," the co-worker said, and folded his newspaper.

MY VIOLET DUCHY

tags: 1967, margaret, tab1, tab2, violet

Mother fitted Violet's mask into place, but that did nothing to cap
the jet of words spraying from her face.

I hated my sister.

Violet:"All of this leaf stuff is still undecided. It'll be difficult
to unseat the pressure screen in this household, especially with Dad.
I wouldn't wager my summer vacation on that contraption. I doubt if
he'll buy it from you."

Thomas: "The thing about this device neither of you seem to understand
is that it's much more than a simple substitute for the pressure
screen. Just look at it's features! The interface is remarkable, even
to functional illiterates such as yourselves. See how it responds so
readily to the touch of my finger? I'm certain he'll be as excited
about it as I am."

Mother: "Isn't this a bit like that old LCD screen you dug out of the
back yard, Thomas? I don't understand what's so interesting about it.
It doesn't even speak. Violet is probably right: your father is not
going to compensate you for this find, I'm afraid..."

Thomas: "..."

Violet: "He's not going to allow it into the house anyway. Are you
going to tell him where you found it, or should I? Ouch, Mom, the pin
goes into my blouse, not my neck!"

Thomas: "Sure, I'll tell him. Though I'm not convinced his consent is
even relevant at this point. How is he going to say no when the device
could prove indispensable to his work? Classical pressure screens are
not going to be interoperable with the new networks. Is Dad going to
let us go broke just so he can pretend the market still values his
pre-war skillset?"

Mother: "Thomas."

Thomas: "Blame the market. I didn't invent supply and demand. Finding
this thing in the trash doesn't make it trash."

Violet: "I have to wonder if there's any significant purpose to all of
these upgrades. In a few months time there'll be another new device to
replace this one, and then, in the fall, a new device to replace that
one. Haven't you discerned a pattern yet, Thomas?"

Thomas: "I haven't the slightest idea what you're on about."

SHELL OUT

tags: 1969, christopher, frankie_willard, tab2

When you lay your shell down on the street, you have to expect that
someone is going to come along and pick it up. Frankie considered this
self-evident fact to be ample justification for his scooping up the
small piece of equipment and dropping it into his pocket. So far as he
could tell, no one had noticed him retrieving the device. Out on the
street, such random finds were rare.

Now, if only he could figure out what it was supposed to be.

Thomas Bright immediately recognized the shell's function. He observed
his friend's actions and contrived to take the object away from him.
By force, if necessary.

Presently, he asserted himself.

"Hey Frankie," he yelled.

The fight unspooled quickly, with Thomas shrugging off an abrasion and
Frankie doubling over on the pavement, nursing a lacerated fist that
had rolled through a patch of broken glass. Frankie's attempt at
securing a headlock had proven ineffective.

Thomas surveyed the battlefield, projecting a wide, mischievous grin
from beneath his visor.

"What?" asked Frankie.

The display of glistening of teeth had set Frankie's legs to feeling
remarkably naked beneath the hem of his cargo shorts. With all of his
extra equipment, Thomas was more resourceful than Frankie had
supposed.

"How many of my cigarettes would you say you burn through in a week?"
Thomas asked, gesturing pointedly and exhaling imaginary smoke into
Frankie's face.

Blocks of light exchanged positions in front of Thomas' eyes.
Discharges of air escaped through his lips at regular intervals as he
considered how to attach Frankie's shell to his home feed. It was
imperative to dump the shell's contents into temporary storage as
quickly as possible. By the time Thomas had established connectivity
with the mesh, his errant verbalizations had organized themselves into
a frivolous melody.

Christopher, for one, was unimpressed with the one-off vocal
performance. He observed that Thomas tended to drift off-pitch, which
was only partially ameliorated by the reverberations of the tiled
bathroom walls.

"Soaked in reverb, your off-key caterwauling almost resolves into
music," Chris stated, flatly.

"Thanks," said Thomas.

"What's the point of booting up this device if we can't connect it to
our other equipment?"

"I'm appalled by your doubt. As well as your seeming inability to
negotiate novel obstacles," Thomas complained. He laid down his tool
on the counter and replaced it with another from his toolbox."Please
observe as I perform the necessary operations to bring this device's
configuration into parity with our extant systems and software."

"But Thomas, this piece of equipment doesn't conform to open
standards. Carrying out your plans would be at cross-purposes to our
SOP; the greater work of populating our testbeds with only legally
unencumbered technologies."

As the dialogue progressed, Thomas worked the casing off of the shell
and proceeded to probe its internals. After a brief interlude of utter
silence, he let out a whoop and spun around to present the results of
his efforts.

A holographic image of Thomas flickered into existence, approximately
four inches above the device. The projection aped Thomas' every word
and movement, allowing for a slight delay.

"Just because you can modify it doesn't make it free ­that is, er,
redistributable," Chris tried to quip, but it had come out all wrong,
mixed-up, as a wave of dizziness seemed to be interfering with his
verbal faculties."You can't even sell the thing now."

"Oh, give me some credit. I don't plan on selling it. Hand me the
smallest forceps."

Chris could no longer tell if he was getting dizzy or merely getting
confused.

"Then why are we wasting time examining it?" he asked.

Thomas looked up at him, perturbed.

"For the funk of it," he said, and then added,"I'm going to fine you
if you keep asking me these stupid questions."

GENDER SMURF

tags: 1968, albert_lunsford, bob, piro, tab1

"You fucking faggot!" my co-worker cried as he leaped out of his
pick-up truck and clapped me on the ear.

I placed my satchel on the picnic table and opened it. We got to work
immediately.

"There's no point in shutting down the whole group," Piro pointed out.

"Oh, you're absolutely right," I said."I think we can accomplish more
by poisoning the well."

Piro had the black box up and running. Every message posted to the
Albert Lunsford group would flow through our illicit kernel module
before it even reached the group's database. In this way, we would
tamper with reality.

"I used your wife's name for one of my fake logins," Piro remarked.

I popped him in the arm.

"Hey, it was easy to remember."

"Just keep your story straight when you're posting. There aren't many
females active on the group; these guys will notice if you get your
continuity out of whack."

I pulled up a sample message.

> Date: Sun, 05 Oct 1968 04:44:16 -0000
> To: albert.lunsford@groups.thegreen
> Message-ID: <gcajs0+q6lf@groups.thegreen>
> In-Reply-To: <gc66fj+5ers@groups.thegreen>
> User-Agent: THEGREEN-EW/0.82
> MIME-Version: 1.0
> Content-Type: text/plain; charset="ISO-8859-1"
> Content-Transfer-Encoding: quoted-printable
> From:"no_such_name"
> <nosuchname@residential.thegreen>
> Subject: Fifteen Impossible Things to Believe Before Breakfast Or Else
> You're a Feminist
> 
> Fifteen Impossible Things to Believe Before Breakfast Or Else You're
> a Feminist
> 
> 1. People are inherently good, and
> therefore communism doesn't work because it postulates that human
> nature is trustworthy. Similarly, a democratic-republic such as the
> United States and Territories is superior to communism because it pits
> people's interests against one another in a system of checks and
> balances, rather than trusting that humans will, of their own accord,
> make the right choices. Also, because people are inherently good,
> ninety-eight out of every one hundred of them end up in Hell.
> 
> 2. Women
> are less equal than men as human beings and therefore should never
> have been given the right to vote. However, since women have already
> been given the right to vote, it is a good idea to let them keep it,
> even though they are messing up the whole world with their bad
> choices.
> 
> 3. Women are clinically insane because psychiatry is bogus
> medicine, therefore Albert Lunsford is not insane because he has not
> been diagnosed as such by a psychiatrist.
> 
> 4. Only liberal feminists
> would consider a six-year-old boy to be eligible for political asylum,
> therefore those who don't consider a six-year-old boy eligible for
> political asylum are liberal feminists.
> 
> 5. Most illness is a result of
> demonic possession.
> 
> 6. Conspiracies in government are unlikely, if not
> impossible, because the government is so large as to make keeping a
> secret impossible, and because government employees make less money
> than private employees.
> 
> 7. No Republican would ever accuse a public
> official of murder or other atrocities, because to do so would be
> disloyal to their country, and because public officials make less
> money than private employees.
> 
> 8. A fiscal conservative is still a
> liberal if they do not believe in God, therefore a theist who believes
> in extorting tax dollars at gunpoint is a conservative.
> 
> 9. The
> impending completion of Lunsford's twenty-six year graphic novel
> project triggered a natural disaster that killed thousands of people,
> therefore keeping the storyline in print is absolutely necessary to
> fulfilling God's will.
> 
> 10. The Dead Sea Scrolls contain a word-perfect
> copy of the Old Testament in its entirety, therefore the other texts
> bundled with it are of negligible value, and the 1591 King James Bible
> is the inerrant Word of God even though different copies of the same
> text varied due to the nature of printing technology in 1591.
> 
> 11.
> Albert Lunsford is the first person in the history of mankind to have
> unlocked the true meaning of the Old Testament, the New Testament and
> the Koran, and therefore he is not a Prophet.
> 
> 12. RFC #289/290
> represents a Unified Field Theory of physics which is not only
> coherent, but correct, all without reference to mathematics. This
> theory is not given the credit it is due because comic book fans are
> afraid to admit that Albert Lunsford is right about everything on this
> list.
> 
> 13. RFC itself is not given the credit it is due in the comics
> industry because comic book fans are afraid to admit that Albert
> Lunsford is right about everything on this list.
> 
> 14. Failure to agree
> with anything in the above list is evidence that you are a
> Marxist/Feminist/Homosexualist, and therefore not Albert Lunsford, and
> therefore wrong.
> 
> 15. Albert Lunsford's new comic book project will
> fail because his comic book readership is comprised solely of
> Marxist/Feminist/Homosexualists, therefore it makes perfect sense to
> dispatch agitators who are known to be hostile to
> Marxism/Feminism/Homosexualism to the four corners of the Green to
> promote it.

I had to laugh. These guys really took this stuff seriously.

Our objective was to subtly disrupt Lunsford's operations. The group
was extremely high traffic, so the black box only had to be active for
a few minutes before our efforts started to bear fruit. I grabbed
another fragment to check on our progress.

>>>-- In albert.lunsford@groups.green,"juan_whatever"
>> <juan_whatever@> wrote:
>>>
>>> Did the text appear kinda messed up on"part two" on other's
>>> pressure screens -or just mine? Gargamel?
>>> Anyway, this is a pretty big deal as we continue to get insight
from
>>> the ground floor of what will probably become the world's dominant
>>> religion some time in the future -oh, you know it'll happen:)
>>
>>
>> On Sun, Oct 5, 1968 at 9:48 AM, Sam <samslammer@...> wrote:
>>
>> You might have been kidding about this, juan, but it did occur to
>> me. Wouldn't put it past Gargamel or Satan to make Albert's text
harder
>> to read.
>>
>> I had to pull the text into a editor and get rid of all the
>> superfluous characters that were making the text unreadable. Few
>> people would probably do that, achieving Gargamel's end nicely.
She/He/It
>> would be invested in *not* having people read the Bible, Torah, and
>> Koran and think about them deeply.
>>
>> Not sure if there's an easier way to add the text without all the
>> extra characters, Klaus, but more people will read the the text if
>> they don't have to work so hard at it. I can make offline
suggestions
>> on how to do that if it will help.
>>>> Sam Slammerhaus

Perfect. The modules were functioning as designed. Even simply futzing
the formatting on a random selection of messages could spin the group
into a number of irrelevant side discussions.

Satisfied with our work, I closed up my satchel and we vacated the
picnic area. Using a public access point had made our insertion
untraceable.

"No end until victory," Piro said, reciting the old Gender Smurf
credo.

"It should be interesting to see how they react to our efforts," I
offered.

Piro quietly nursed his beer.

"I just hope these guys don't fly completely off the handle. Their
tactics are entirely unpredictable."

"Truth," I said.

We fell into silence for a few moments, each of us contemplating the
notion of blue-skinned rioters storming the public schools, smurfing
their way into the girl's restrooms.

"I have to admit I find their sexual practices disgusting," Piro said
at last.

"Hey, you'll get no argument from me. But so long as they remain in
their hovels they're not doing anything illegal."

"The whole reason we're involved with this mess is precisely because
they do sometimes leave their hovels."

The discussion usually tended in this direction. I set them up and my
partner knocked them down. Point to Piro.

"I suppose there is a fear that their culture will spread, put down
roots in the urban centers. No one really cares about a local cult,
but now that they're making inroads in the national media..."

"I'll say it again: disgusting," Piro repeated.

A Gender Smurf entered the room and made a beeline for the bar. He sat
himself down on a stool right next to Piro.

"You guys ever thought of going blue?" he asked, by way of
introduction.

I clutched Piro's shoulder as he reached for his sidearm."Don't you
people know Peyo was a Satanist!" he spat out, struggling against my
grip.

"We're not interested," I said, intensifying my stare to indicate we
would brook no further discussion. We got up to leave.

Three hours later Piro was still arguing with Bob, the Gender Smurf.

"What's the big deal? Blue skin is as healthy and safe as bare
hands... Tell me, how would'flesh color' have protected that gentleman
over there or anyone else from'runaway shopping carts' or the other
so-called'dangers' you've enumerated? Well-adjusted, blue skin can
actually withstand quite hazardous environments... It's amazing how
paranoid most people are here in North America. You should try going
blue outside sometime, it feels great and it's nowhere nearly as
dangerous as most people seem to assume. I've been doing it for nearly
fifteen years, up in Canada, and my skin is in great shape. I'm
healthy as a horse. Open your minds, gentlemen!"

"What about SPF," Piro asked, resigned to his fate as the lone voice
of reason in the discussion. I refused to participate.

"This calls for a two-part argument," said Bob."One: One more reason
I'm really glad I don't live in the U.S.­I'd really hate for others to
be telling me what color I can and can't be when I'm spending my money
at their store. So much for'The Land Of The Free.' The'No Blues'
policy does not have anything to do with health protection or laws. It
is a double standard created by corporations to enforce dress codes;
designed only to create a business'image.' Unfortunately, that kind of
stupid mentality is getting contagious up in Canada."

Bob indicated the placement of quotation marks with his fingers.

When no one objected to his first point, he continued.

"Two: Again, I don't understand how people think flimsy, flesh colored
skin (which seems to be totally okay at most places of business, all
over) can protect them from any of the'horrible' things they could
catch or the usual hazards on the streets. In fact, some of the
so-called normal shoes people wear (platform shoes, pointy, etc.) pose
a greater threat to someone's health than actually walking around
outdoors with blue skin! For more information on how going blue is not
only okay but is also good for you, please surf to:
groups.thegreen/albert.lunsford­A U.S. based organization of people
who go blue as a lifestyle choice."

Finally, I had to but in.

"We don't. Spamming. Care."

Piro insisted on paying for Bob's drinks. I told him to take it out of
petty cash­I wasn't going to try and justify this on my expense sheet.
He made the necessary preparations and transmitted payment.

"Do you see now why I discourage talking with these people," I asked,
punching Piro in the back.

"I'm not sure how to explain my objection to your attitude," Piro
said."It's not precisely that you're a racist, because these people
are not born blue. It's not really intolerance of their religion,
because, aside from their blue skin, white hats, and the fact that
they have sex with each other while wearing them, these people are not
fundamentally different from you or me."

I gave him a look.

"I'm just saying, there's no reason not to treat them like human
beings."

"Sure there is," I said."It's our job."

DISSIPATION

tags: 1963, plinth_mold, saito

Click, click, click. Twelve cubes of light, each flipping past the
other, rotating into the slot left vacant by its predecessor. The
purpose of this orchestration is to massage the cortex with
electromagnetic oscillations in the frequency range of 8-12Hz.
Patients appear to derive the most benefit, Saito has noted, from
working through the entire routine, pausing rhythmically at the
completion of each sequence to allow the electronics to catch up with
the procession of their focus.

But what are the effects, he wonders, if the patient identifies his
therapeutic parlor trick and susses out the mechanism? What happens
when the patient's conscious mind tracks the incoming data with
greater precision than the machinery? Click, click, click. Saito leans
forward. Perhaps this particular arrangement of cubes is novel. He
presses a button, freezing the arrangement in memory. To be studied
later.

He is pleased that the treatment has proven efficacious. For the vast
majority of his patients, anyway. Ironic, then, that he should feel so
powerless to alter the degree and substance of his own compulsive
addictions. Contemplating this, Saito produces a pocket lighter from
his coat and sears the flesh of his right hand. He stifles a primal
yelp, burying his shame in his handkerchief (not only the shame, but
the evidence­self-immolation is an offense not only against the state,
but against Saito's ancestors, for historical reasons peculiar to his
family). He then re-calibrates his equipment for the next patient.

The work he is carrying out could revolutionize treatment of numerous
conditions, given the eventual push into mass production. For
uncounted moments Saito shifts out of time, is aloft, floating on the
awareness of what he is so very close to achieving. He finds the
sensation is fleeting.

Saito adjusts his coiffure and smooths down the front of his white
coat, feeling his sweat cool against the skin of his wrists. If anyone
has seen him burning himself, it could result in the loss of his job.

But of what use is a job, at this point in his life? They've made his
impossible.

He has been forced to accept a number of compromises that limit the
efficacy of his design. He doubts that the latest cubes, in their
present form, will do much more than narcotize. Hypnotize. Amounting
to nothing more than an entertainment. Saito ruminates on the shambles
of his career before taking the lighter back out of his pocket and
burning several additional black marks into the flesh of his hand. He
tries to ignite his skin completely, but succeeds only in singeing the
sleeve of his coat. With the smoke, he imagines his kami slinking up
to the ceiling, dispersing across its surface, crawling in several
directions at once towards the duct work and vents.

A knock­an abrupt punctuation to his thoughts­and the door swings
open, pulling his kami back down to the floor. So, they had seen him
after all. He knows now that the charade is concluded. His work is
finished.

As a result of his actions his patients will suffer. But then,
patients are always suffering.

With his expulsion, Saito's role in the project will be expunged.
Because his research is considered a state secret, there will be no
one to complain on his behalf. His data will be reclaimed and filtered
for an executive summary. And then, he suspects, quietly abandoned, as
it is clear that the process of weaponization would exceed the
available funding. This, at least, is some small cause for relief.

Still, he feels as if his kami has dissipated. There is nothing left
for them to kill.

This thought compels him to emit a tiny laugh. The thought dies,
strangled stillborn in his throat.

Saito flinches as the door swings inward.

Into the room bounds Plinth Mold, flanked by two of his most trusted
attorneys.

"Relax, Saito," says Plinth."Let's talk patents. I'm interested in
what you've been working on up here, all these years."

DUCHESS OF MASKS

tags: 1993, saito, violet

What I hold in my left hand is different from what I hold in my right.
What is on my face is different still. I have so many choices of how
to proceed.

At any moment an alarm will sound and I will be discovered. Sitting in
this chair, looking over these files, wearing whichever face has
fallen into place as they burst through the door. How will they see
me? It is of no consequence what they will think.

The gray backdrop of what I have learned here throws what I know of
our history into menacing relief; paper shadows under fluorescence and
lost thoughts in the drawer. Which eyes will I use to record these
discoveries? With no apparent prejudice I select a mask and peer
through its gates, rifling numerous papers and file folders spread
across the floor. A slender cord tethers me to the machine under my
cushioned seat, which interprets the ambient state of the room.

Through these eyes.

Oh, Saito. I am afraid that I cannot clean these tracks from the
floor. Your actions have plunged a polished knife into the swollen
belly of our tracking. It is, in fact, you who is splayed out here on
the floor. A descending pattern of guilt.

Would that I were here when it happened, all those years ago.

Would that you had listened.

CALL, WAITING

tags: 1977, eva, tab2

The whole side of the building is green. I see I've come all the way
out here again for nothing.

I'm slow packing up my gear. The day has already evaporated around me.
Might as well soak the trip for billable hours.

This happens every week. I've yet to be given the go ahead on an
operation­at all, actually. The work is easy, but dragging out my gear
just to sit here in the dark is humiliating. If I didn't need the
money I would withdraw my registration.

The sun has not quite vanished. There are still a smattering of locals
out and about on the street. I decide to finish my report here, while
I'm still on the scene. I finger the leaf out of my coat pocket and
expand its display. As soon as I light the screen, four messages
appear, each edging its neighbor out of the way in accordance with an
algorithm deemed intuitive by emotionally bereft software engineers.
Presently, desktop real estate on the hand-held is at a premium.

All of the messages are from Eva. Message 1: 16:01 Are you coming in
to work today?:)
Message 2: 16:03 I know you're in there, I can see the light from your
leaf reflecting in the mirror and peeking out of the curtains. Should
I send over a a tray of makizushi, or just keep it to myself?
Message 3: 16:07 FINE THEN! I'M GOING ON BREAK.
Message 4: 16:16 Why won't you talk to me?

There are numerous relevant answers to her question, but I'm not about
to entangle myself in a discussion. I close all four message windows
with an index finger and bring up the report template. Light from the
window continues to leak into my room, coaxing abstract reflections
from the dresser mirror. Dusk always wreaks havoc with my visor and
its ability to read the screen of my leaf. I end up leaving the visor
off, missing out on a lot of calculating I could be doing while I
pretend to work.

There is a sound I don't like, out in the hallway, and suddenly I've
got my pistol out, working my finger into its trigger guard and
inserting a clip of ammunition. After a few moments I put the firearm
back in my bag. It was only the landlady's cat.

So.

On to my report. 19:04 NOTHING HAS HAPPENED AGAIN. I RECEIVED THE
ALL-CLEAR SIGNAL AT 19:00 PER THE SCHEDULE AND SO RETURNED ALL
INSTRUMENTATION TO ITS STORAGE CASE AND SHUT DOWN THE TRANSMITTER.
SIGNING OFF TO RETURN TO THE REAL WORLD. EOF.

I encrypt the message with my thumb and send it on its way.

As I'm gathering my things, my mind wanders to my fellow agents,
spread out across diverse countries and kingdoms, who must also have
been called out and then sent back home without seeing any action. I
wonder about their frustrations with the tedious ins and outs of the
business. Surely we'd have a lot in common. Not that we'll ever meet.

I'm not long in dusting the chair and table. I wrap my shirt around my
hand, then lightly grip the doorknob and vacate before I'm noticed. My
visor tells me the landlady is rounding the corner, two blocks away,
returning home with a bag full of groceries. I follow the path my
visor has illuminated until I reach a public transport, which it flags
as off-limits. Instead, I hop into a taxi.

By the time I arrive at home I've decided against more studying. I
pull up a telescreen window and lean back in my bed, trying to get
some rest. I wonder who we did decide to blow up today. I'm always
kept close to potential action scenes, even if I'm never actually
ordered to intervene. It's probably the same with all of us.

I fall asleep just as the answer to my query hits the scroll. A group
of wailing women are brought up on screen to provide visual context
for the hour's headline story.

My visor flags the clip for my attention, but I don't remember what
happens next. It's unlikely I'll remember to review this in the
morning.

TRY MY PRODUCT

tags: 1979, coca_cola, do_wuh, motherfucker, perpetrator

The airbrushed cover was decidedly inferior to what Motherfucker had
seen before, attached to other printings of the same book. It was
outlandish. All swaddling clothes and taut, glistening muscles.
Objectifying the physiques that would result from pious observance,
appealing to the vanity of practitioners who were required, by
tradition and by law, to study it. Transparent ableism. This kind of
self-aggrandizing marketing disgusted him. Gazing upon its cover, it
was hard for Motherfucker to take the book seriously.

"Well, don't just sit there, all slack-jawed, however arresting that
dust jacket might be... Open the blessed book and let's get started."

Perpetrator adopted an instructional tone, as if to communicate that
Motherfucker's own study habits were somehow deficient, would somehow
land him in hot water. He was always prepared to dispense advice to
his lessers. In this case, the advice involved the interpretation of
the Bible, and the careful application of those interpretations to the
logical conundrums that permeated modern life. Perpetrator was only a
couple of months older than Motherfucker. He was a total spamhole.

"That's not what the book says at all," complained Motherfucker.

Perpetrator indicated the text with his finger."You're wrong. It's
right there on the page in front of you. Just look at the words."

"Yes, my eyes were directed at this material during the process of
forming my initial assessment," sighed Motherfucker.

"Well, one couldn't tell from hearing you recite it."

The pages dissolved into one another. Motherfucker couldn't sustain
his focus. He wondered briefly why the long lists of telephone numbers
that comprised this part of the Scriptures featured variable font
sizes, brilliant piping and color illustrations. Why all the fuss?

"Perpetrator, what is the point of these chapters that are mainly just
lists of telephone numbers and advertisements for insurance agents?"

"Motherfucker, those are the Sanctified Tribes of the Green. Your
remarks are veering dangerously close to blasphemy. Why do you have to
question every last detail, when it comes to our studies? Not
everything is a conspiracy!"

Motherfucker sighed again."It all just seems so arbitrary. Like
they've gone and copied pages out of an old telephone directory and
called it Scripture."

"Naturally that is what it seems like, Motherfucker, for that is
precisely what they've done."

"..."

"What," asked Perpetrator, finally and honestly befuddled."You didn't
know?"

"What do you mean what?" asked Motherfucker."Why did they copy pages
out of an old telephone directory and call it Scripture?"

"Because, Motherfucker, these manuscripts are illuminated."

"..."

"Look at the section headings. See how the Tribes are organized
according to service offerings, then alphabetized? These illustrations
are graphical elements that illuminate the organization of the data.
It renders the information discernible at a glance."

"..."

"Still you do not comprehend."

"No, I'm afraid I don't."

Perpetrator stalled for several seconds, allowing time for the the new
concepts to sink into Motherfucker's mind.

Minutes passed.

"Wait. Oh. Now I see," claimed Motherfucker."They're not so old as to
be presented as text-only, like the original Scriptures. These pages
contain source code and meta data."

"That is correct."

"I guess that makes sense."

"Good, Motherfucker," said Perpetrator."Now we're making progress!"

But Motherfucker still seemed to be confused.

"We've wasted enough time on the display elements. Please return to
the previous chapter and read aloud."

"Son of a bitch. You know I'm not comfortable reading aloud."

"Okay then, I will read aloud to you," resolved Perpetrator, training
his standard, disdainful stare into the pupils of Motherfucker's eyes.

Throat cleared, he began.

"Newton wrote:

any forces whatsoever, and of the forces required to produce any
motion... and therefore I offer this work as the mathematical
principles of philosophy, for the whole burden of philosophy seems to
consist in this from the phenomena of motions to investigate the
forces of nature, and then from these forces to demonstrate the other
phenomena...

"Yeah, right," said Motherfucker.

"What, you don't believe him? Here, what do the footnotes say?"

From this proposition it will follow, when arithmetical addition has
been defined, that 1 + 1 = 2.

"It also says that the text in question wasn't always a part of this
chapter," finished Motherfucker.

"Honestly! And what year was this edition sourced?"

Pages flipped backwards.

"Twenty thirty-one. According to the information in the front."

"Then you see what I mean."

"No, not really."

It was going to be a long night.

Presently, Do Wuh entered the room, disrupting their studies. He was a
bit dirty from tumbling in the yard, and Perpetrator recoiled visibly
when at last he came fully into view.

"Do Wuh."

"Motherfucker, put that book down and let's go outside and play."

"Do Wuh." Perpetrator spoke the name more stiffly this time, as if it
were an accusation rather than an identity. His face contorted
menacingly, seeming very serious indeed.

"Shut up, Perp," cracked Do Wuh."Motherfucker, seriously, I'm sick of
this spam. Why don't you come outside with the rest of us."

"Oh, but to journey through the out of doors," lamented Motherfucker,
glancing woefully at Perpetrator."Perhaps we should take the book
outside, so we can all consult the rules if such a thing becomes
necessary."

A delicious pause.

"That's a good idea," nodded Perpetrator, his incessant, condescending
glare now softening, owing to the fact that he was outnumbered. In
spite of the rigid persona he projected, he knew when an argument was
a lost cause. Besides, it was more likely that the others would
stumble into diligent study if he and Motherfucker first worked to
gain their respect by participating in their aimless, physical games.

"Whatever," said Do Wuh."You two are going to go blind, sitting in
here playing with that book all the time."

"Unlikely," remarked Perpetrator.

"Actually, that's a myth," offered Motherfucker.

Do Wuh slammed the door on his way out.

Outside, lawnmowers hovered in the distance. Uh Huh and Coca Cola were
already on the field, caked with dirt. It behooved Perpetrator to
comment on their slovenly appearance.

"Those are your good clothes, are they not?"

"Shut up, Perp," said Coca Cola.

"Okay, there's five of us here and we only need four. Perp, you're
out."

"I didn't want to play in the first place!"

"Then everybody wins," said Coca Cola, laughing.

Perpetrator sat down with his book and began to leaf through its
pages, focusing intently on the text. He de-fogged his glasses with
the corner of his shirt and chewed his fingernail as he read.

"Spam them all. I'm studying!" he thought.

"Indeed," replied a voice that wasn't there.

Perpetrator's eyes grew large as the gold Daytons on his father's
Impala.

"Intriguing," he thought to himself, and continued with his reading of
the Scriptures.

OLD MOLD

tags: 1861, haus_mold

By the winter of 1861 I hadn't seen another human being in six years.
My gun had rusted, but that didn't much matter as for the majority of
my time on the mountain I had been completely snowed in.

My graph hadn't perturbed itself in months. I thought it might have
simply shut itself down, protesting inactivity. I couldn't muster the
interest to scan its core for flaws. I considered cannibalizing it for
parts.

I melted some snow from the window and sloshed the water around in my
mouth. Brine. I spit it out on the wood floor. Opened the cabinets for
no real reason; there was no food left.

I contemplated trying to dig myself out.

I got my legs attached and unlocked the front door. A flat wall of
beige snow, suspended where the sunshine should have been.

Voices, from behind the wall.

My first thoughts ran to annoyance. I hoped they would move on. Anyone
up here at this time of year could only be seeking after help. Two
voices meant they would be unlikely to take no for an answer from a
lone hermit such as myself.

A gloved hand poked through the snow, groping around as if to stave
off asphyxiation.

I prepared myself for unwanted conversation.

The strangers were polite. Dug out the front step. Offered me
provisions when they noticed I didn't even have a stove for cooking. I
distracted them with talk of the astronomical data I had been
collecting. The younger fellow was able to follow along to some
extent, but both seemed lacking in the fundamentals so I let the
subject drop.

I do not recall now which of them first broached the topic of their
extra horse, but they talked me into stepping out front to inspect its
injury.

The reader will have seen this coming. I was several paces into the
front snow drift when I heard the door lock behind me.

Their provisions were still loaded onto their horses.

Their mistake.

I ran some calculations in my head and decided that the horses could
probably make it into town. It did take the better part of the day to
make the journey.

Everything had changed. The general store had expanded to include a
bar and eatery. The grand hotel was now a school house. Inside the old
court building, the whores were now wearing shoes. No one seemed to
recognize me.

I bartered the two oldest horses for a new rifle, a flint and a sewing
needle. I wouldn't need food. I made love to a whore in order to blend
in with the other drifters; it was frowned upon by the constabulary to
leave town without first engaging the local labor pool. Civilization
and tradition had conspired to keep me within city limits until after
dark.

I fell asleep without replacing my eye patch.

When I woke up, it was gone.

"'Haus Mold,'" laughed the hotel manager, reading from my card."Your
name's a joke, right?"

"It's an Indian name," I said.

My bad eye focused on him and I assumed he must have caught a glimpse
of the internal mechanism because he started when it whirred to life.

"Right. You're an injun." He gestured sarcastically as if he were
jerking off.

I glanced over at his daughter. The whore I had bedded. He noticed
this and his voice trailed off.

As my boots hit the dirt outside the hotel, the snow was just starting
to pick up. The first big storms up the mountain would have rolled in
the night before. The pass would be buried until spring.

I made a backup of myself and dropped it in the mail to New York. Just
in case.

As I approached my horse, a shot rang out. Its echo clashed against
the wooden slats of the general store, the school and the casino. My
horse tipped over like a grandfather clock, brains pushing out of its
impacted eye socket. I noted that we had both contrived to lose the
same eye.

I turned and raised my new rifle, returned fire. It was no surprise to
me who I'd killed.

"Fair fight!" some idiot exclaimed.

"Squash it," I barked."Increase the peace."

I rode west. Once out of town, I removed my clothing and walked beside
my horse.

The snow eventually gave way to desert.

FAST

tags: 4086, albert_lunsford, piro, shit_mold

There are folded bits of me coming off. The heated stress in the room
has peeled back the edges of my face and I think that the human glue
underneath is melting away...

In four minutes I will leave for the day, cutting through the steam to
the outer door of my compartment. In four minutes, I will sleep.

Well, no.

The stacks of leaves are cleared. I've fought off the last bits of
synthetic sick from the foodstuffs in the office pantry. But the
vending machines haven't been refilled in almost a month, and the food
ports back up when there isn't anyone around to place orders. I'm in
the same boat in my quarters­I try to stay on the button and make due
with what I can coax from the machines (I'm always working), but it's
hard to keep myself awake when I'm always so hungry.

The last of the leaves put away, I can now turn down my screens and
cover my seat for the morning decontamination cycle. It seems I've
missed one; a straggler. The little leaf confronts me, cross to have
been overlooked. I find it hunkered down, nearly collapsed into a pile
of itself, casting an agitated shadow on the carpet. Its facing edge
wavers in and out of focus in the reduced lighting. I regard it
blankly and then crush it with my heel.

Next: The King's quarters, which must also be purged of filth.

I pull up an icon of Albert Lunsford and meditate on the seventh book
of volume four. Walking On The Moon.

It is Ramadan, and everyone is gone.

The station turns.

SELECTION

tags: 2179, massive_fictions, rimbaud, stanley

All of this was not going to work for him anymore. It was coming down
around his ankles. His output had exceeded his company's resources,
and his private prospects were taking a nosedive as well. He could
hardly pay himself to write. Without that weekly stipend from MASSIVE
FICTIONS, he wasn't going to make rent on the storage facility for his
collections. One unwelcome change blurred into another, and in short
order, the accumulated results were overwhelming to contemplate.

Rimbaud passed Stanley on the fifty-fourth floor and tipped his hat.
Stanley was probably off to tinker with more of his­what had he called
them­ martial simulations. What a thought; larping about as if to
train for war. But, this was Stanley, and, after all, this was one of
Stanley's interests. No harm was being done, in any case.

As he navigated the spiraling path, the requisite plying of a new
editor at some other rag­what other rags were even left­was very much
on his mind. A crease formed across his forehead as he alit gently on
the elevator, negotiating the physical geometry with his body whilst
simultaneously evaluating potential budget configurations in his mind.
Duality. Synchronous operation. He watched the frothing crowd of his
countrymen, churning to and fro along the pathways below. They
resembled nothing so much as beer suds sloshing in a bed of potting
soil. And it was a very long way down. Petals­floors­whipped by
silently, causing the sun to blink, languidly, somewhere near the
horizon.

Rimbaud stood amongst his fellow salarymen and mused that,
self-evidently, the architecture of their day would have to be
considered superior to that of any previous era. From his studies he
recalled that, in centuries past, forays had been made into evolving
wholly organic super-structures, but that it had taken the better part
of a four hundred years­bringing the public state-of-the-art almost up
to date with that of his own great-grandfather's famous, proprietary
work­before emergent plant mimicry was fully integrated into the
mainstream of public works. While it was true that most citizen
hovels­even today­evinced the brute angles and sharp corners
characteristic of the twentieth century's most prolific architects
(perhaps out of some sense of fealty to tradition, since,
structurally, such arbitrary designs were no longer strictly
necessary), in his own lifetime he had witnessed the marvelous
transformation of municipal buildings from great, lumbering and
inefficient storage containers into organic, plebeian tangles of
smoothly curving branches, stems and flowering foyers. Why, his own
quarters were situated within just such a fractal space! Rimbaud had
to remind himself that the upper-most levels of these buildings, or,
more appropriately, growths, were still reserved for the business
classes and their various concerns. He observed with some satisfaction
that these concessions were small sacrifice when weighed against the
general improvements to the Commons such commerce inevitably yielded.
The slums were already starting to grow over.

The express elevator distended and Rimbaud disembarked towards an
identification booth. He slid into a vacant pod and hooked his legs
around the seating apparatus as his entire body was rotated into
position. From there, his awareness shifted back to Home. Thus
transported, he prepared his evening meal to the accompaniment of a
historical recording. His pleasure was the Existentialist literature
of the mid- twentieth century, and he preferred to track the audio
wholly eyes-free while handling his cooking materials. Sophistry,
perhaps, but well within the curve of the culturally acceptable
plotted for him by his trusted almanack.

Pulsing from the far counter came a notice that his tuna had thawed.
Rimbaud slid to the other side of his pod and began eating pieces of
raw fish. From an adjacent curved plate he selected a number of
additional food items to link into his meal. By running a finger
across the stamen of the plate, Rimbaud seasoned the course to his
liking. He chose some vegetables and elected to submerse them in one
half-ounce of wood-aged high-fructose corn syrup. He flattered himself
that his tastes were truly refined.

The 8-bit alarm drones Rimbaud had programmed for eight o'clock (a
clever recursive reference, he had thought) sounded, softly, and he
knew then that it was time to replace the dishes within their folds
and return to work. Rimbaud made a gesture towards the door, and the
sunlight streaming in from above shifted, gave way to the interior of
his encephaloid pod. Identification. He untangled his legs and got
himself up, running a hand through his mussed hair and replacing his
felt cap. He smoothed down his jacket and made his way back through
the forest of salarymen, climbing once again into the express
elevator. As he flitted up the stem of the building, he thought to
himself that his lunch periods seemed shorter and shorter as his life
progressed. As he grew objectively older.

Finally reaching his objective at the very top of the building,
Rimbaud took stock of the vast garden spread out across the city
below. Millions of his fellow countrymen were busy going about their
daily tasks, worker bees distributing commercially registered pollen.
None questioning themselves as he did. None of them devoting the scant
moments of their free time to comparing themselves unfavorably with
American negroes of centuries past. Was his toil really so
objectionable as all that? Such nonsense that he allowed to enter his
mind.

Rimbaud then reflected upon his appearance, and suddenly he was
grossly ashamed. He wiped away the stray rivulets of sweat from his
forehead and pulled the end of his antique almanack slightly out of
his breast pocket, cater-corner, plainly into the view of casual
passers-by. Moribund regrets of servitude would not cast a pallor upon
his demeanor. I have a choice in this matter, he thought. My suffering
is mine, and mine alone.

As the elevator distended once more, Rimbaud was bathed in the bright,
sympathetic air of photosynthesis made comprehensible.

As was his usual habit, he pushed the negative thoughts from his mind,
choosing instead to consider the significance of beautiful flowers.

SPEED GRADING

tags: 4086, piro, tab2

I'm cleaning out the King's cupboards when I run across some old
detritus that he had thought it would be a good idea to bring along
with him to the station.

Thomas.

According to legend, he wrote this paper for a grade school
assignment. As I recall, it triggered unrest amongst the faculty. In
the absence of advanced philosophical technology, papers written by
school children wielded the capability to disrupt classroom
activities.

	The popular image of Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus
	Theophilus Mozart is inaccurate to the point of
	ridiculousness.  However, this has not prevented a
	multiplicity of interpretations from emerging to surround his
	work.  Ludwig von Kochel's contrived naming convention has
	even been absorbed into the text of Mozart's published scores,
	sans any indication that Herr Mozart did not create these
	titles himself.  Beneath the layers of false attribution lies
	a man (J.  C. W. T. M.) whose own prodigious correspondence is
	often the last resource consulted by would-be experts.  Thus,
	the common conception of the silly-voiced man-child, idiot
	savant dominates the commentary upon his work even to this
	day.  Figures such as Mozart are invoked almost as articles of
	our language, employed as symbols of narratives larger than
	the mere facts of their corporeal existence.  This phenomenon
	renders any deeper investigation into the men themselves a
	trifling diversion, an unnecessary digression at best.  When
	one appears to be referencing a rich study of the available
	facts, what one is too often doing, instead, is invoking the
	surface texture of popular memory (most often grossly
	misconstrued, but constituting a shared culture nonetheless).
	It is shamefully dishonest to put forward such vagary as
	learned discourse.  But.  Is this lamentable transgression so
	far removed from the process of creating words, themselves?  I
	beseech the thoughtful reader to consider that language, to
	begin with, is merely a collection of consensual, codified
	misunderstandings.  I will now shift contexts and refer to the
	decades-long correspondence between the Americans Thomas
	Jefferson and John Adams.  It is unlikely that the modern
	reader is familiar with these gentlemen.  Sadly, the average
	Federalist/Anti-Federalist scholar is likewise ignorant of
	their existence.  And yet, it must be pointed out, portions of
	their correspondence have been, since 1926, accepted into the
	Scriptures.  One recoils at the cognitive dissonance; this
	vast field of Green scholarship, donning its own willfully
	fogged-over spectacles in order to better scrawl out its blind
	declarations.  It is deemed acceptable to reference the icons
	of culture by name or by clique, but it is seen as
	counterproductive to make clearly understood precisely what it
	is one is trying to say.  Of course, not all manglings of the
	language are intentional, and not all such manglings are
	equally deceptive.  Some people just don't care about the
	Bible.  There persists an interplay between the rigorous
	accuracy that is ostensibly sought after and the broad
	symbolism that is most easily digested.  I am prepared to
	admit that in my own work I have yet to satisfactorily bridge
	these disparate vectors of focus.  Even an isolated, outlying
	case refuses to make itself known.  For example, I am capable
	of pursuing either individual goal with exceeding stamina and
	skill, and yet I am resigned to my failure in striking a
	balance between the two as a whole.  I have discovered no
	happy synthesis.  No congenial associations between the two
	paths.  The network betwixt particle and wave refuses to
	materialize.  Redoubled focus simply dissolves into a migraine
	headache.  This, then, is the eternal struggle.  The Mozart of
	reality versus the Mozart of history.  Why read the entirety
	of Jefferson's correspondence when a blind quotation will
	suffice?  As I compare like with unlike, I stumble upon the
	realization that the vision of others, is, by necessity,
	likewise obstructed.  This myopia that afflicts me is not an
	invention, a deficiency particular to my person.  All of our
	screens are thus occluded, whether we recognize it or not.  In
	our minds, the eminence of the signifier shall always eclipse
	that of the signified.  Ironically, we trip repeatedly over
	this blunt limitation, which itself probably evolved as a
	means to facilitate communication.  What I'm trying to say is,
	stop trying to tell me what I mean.  In this paper I have
	demonstrated the inherent political power of dictionaries.
	The careful reader will adjust his ambitions accordingly.


I fold the leaf and replace it within its compartment. We are way
beyond these sorts of observations by now, Thomas. Today I would mark
this paper with a C-, at best. But, you wrote for your time. Some
inaccuracies and the overall sparseness of detail may be forgiven. I
confirm the historical grade (A-) by thumbprint and wave away the
hovering screen.

While I was a grading, something in the room has changed. A faint
white light illuminates the port hole of the King's quarters.

I make my way over to investigate the disturbance.

ANALYSIS

tags: 2182, rimbaud, violet

There was a slow dithering moment before it all coalesced and came
upon him like a spilled dinner tray. All of the air went out of him at
once. What the tiny viewscreen showed him would certainly mean the end
of his tenure; if not his career as an instructor of children's
literature.

Little Violet reading from her diary.

He clutched at the front pocket on his shirt for tobacco. Must keep
watch. (Can't watch.) He ran a knotted hand through his auburn strands
(or lack thereof) and pulled at the lobe of his ear while blue smoke
ran fingers of its own down his cheek, mocking him tenderly.

Another minute, maybe less.

As Violet brought her reading to a close, the other children began to
text each other about the performance, proceeding to update their
class journals as they waited for a response. The classroom was devoid
of snickers. The group had broken out into mad hysterics of flat
silence. Rimbaud's attention was still rapt.

What Violet had said.

He pocketed the monitor and poked his cigarette into a receptacle.
Attached his glasses and pushed back through the heavy air of the
empty hallway. Resumed his classroom.

She'd kept quiet.

In spite of her innuendo, bald threats, blatant comminations,
exaggerated bluster, roundabout disparagement; she hadn't shared her
scathing review of his first novel with the class.

That was good.

That was a good girl.

Rimaud considered staying on for the semester.

He thought: Those who can't, teach.

The students remained silent as he entered.

JERRYMANDER FALLS

tags: 1868, haus_mold, jerrymander_mold

The polls had closed and so Jerrymander did the only thing he knew how
to do, aside from campaigning, which was to crack open a beer and down
the whole thing in one gulp.

The beverage exhibited no effect upon his overweight, mechanical body.

Grover fucking Cleveland! he growled.

Opening another can, he decided that America deserved a Democrat.

Fuck'em, he mumbled.

"Stop pretending to be drunk."

Haus Mold stood in the doorway, examining Jerrymander's hotel room.
"Where are your people," he asked.

"I sent them away. There's no point in listening to their excuses."

"You seem to be taking this awfully personally."

"So what."

Jerrymander put down his beer can and paced the circumference of the
curved room.

"Something troubles me about this election," he said at last.

"Sure. You didn't win."

Jerrymander scowled.

The horse looked worried. It seemed to sag under the weight of
Jerrymander's saddle.

"There's no reason for you to leave town over this," Haus pleaded.

"Fuck'em," was all Jerrymander would say. He repeated it quietly
several times before trailing off into belligerent silence.

Dust caught in Haus' face and false teeth as the horse made a go of
things.

Jerrymander didn't look back.

Once the old man was gone, Haus retreated to his hotel room and laid
down on his bed. The name kept coming back to him. Jerrymander Falls.

He unlatched his satchel and checked the integrity of the Mold backups
for the third time that day.

Haus finally made up his mind. He took out his pen and got started on
the paperwork.

Hard reboot.

VISUAL RHETORIC

tags: 1983, 4086, piro, tab2

Thomas Bright's disembodied head regarded me from the other side of
the port hole.

I made a little waving gesture and he smiled.

"Don't just stand there," he said."You've got to help me!"

	First of all, they're not voices.  In the fall of 1980, fast
	approaching my twenty-third birthday, I had become enamored
	with the irrational certainty that something dramatically and
	disturbingly...  well, bad...  was going to happen during the
	course of the coming year.  I had weathered a series of
	nightmares about tornadoes and hurricanes, which had lately
	been joined by a progression of graphically detailed plane
	crashes.  Eventually, the two dream-streams collided and
	morphed into a single, recurring narrative.  The twin
	tornadoes (one comprised of dust and the other comprised of
	water) inched down a gravel road to demolish a giant diorama
	of Manhattan.  This diorama had been laid out like a
	room-sized map across the altar of the Methodist church I
	attended as a child.  Curious, right?  I could see the
	whirlwinds of destruction making their way slowly towards the
	church.  A seemingly random sampling of individuals I'd known
	throughout my childhood each knelt down on the floor with me,
	playing with an assortment of plastic military
	toys­planes­flying them around the diorama city.  We would
	throw the toy planes like footballs and crash them into the
	buildings.  This distracted us from the impending arrival of
	the tornadoes.  The floor of the giant map was complete with a
	legend, compass, and an elaborate island airstrip (which
	seemed to be noticed only by me).  Usually, the dream cut off
	when I spotted the island and walked over to stand on it.  I
	would invariably become convinced that there was something of
	great importance buried beneath its surface.  The last thing I
	would see as I woke up would be an outline of the bold script
	of the name of the island, stubbornly obscured by my feet.  I
	could never quite make out the words...  Earlier in my
	childhood, I had convinced myself that a number of disembodied
	intelligences (perhaps the most intriguing of which was a
	sentient idea referring to itself as the avatar of Sarcasm)
	had repeatedly, and quite insistently, presented me with the
	opportunity to become the living Anti-Christ.  The world would
	be delivered to me if only I were willing to perform a series
	of simple tasks that would demonstrate my dedication to the
	sentient idea's service.  Horrified, I vehemently refused, and
	took measures I believed would prevent my proposed political
	career from ever getting far off the ground.  To this day I
	still can't secure a credit card.  The tasks I was given were
	to have been a simple set of mundane actions, which would have
	harmed no one, and which would have caused me no undue
	personal hardship.  And yet, I was not enthused with this idea
	of becoming the personification of a Scriptural prophecy whose
	study had generated such distress in me as a child.  Sarcasm
	was amused, and­well­it would sarcastically counter my adamant
	refusals by drilling vivid images of the nuclear holocaust
	described in the book of Revelation directly into my brain.  I
	have to say, it didn't take long for the Biblical stuff to
	wear thin.  By 1975 I had become convinced that these images
	depicted the aftermath of attacks perpetrated against the
	United States by Islamic terrorists.  I was certain that these
	attacks would occur sometime within the next fifty years.  I
	privately told my girlfriend at the time that the next major
	war involving the United States would be centered upon Iraq,
	and that I hoped conscription would not be re-instated (as it
	had been in my 'vision,' or whatever you want to call it),
	because I was certain that I would be called up by my father's
	employers and sent off to...  well, there was more.  Let's
	just say there was more.  In light of all this, I wasn't sure
	I could keep saying no to Sarcasm forever.  Of course, while I
	was well aware that this was all make-believe­made-up
	nonsense­the impact it had upon my disposition and outlook was
	similar to what might have been expected if the situation had,
	in fact, been real.  The metaphorical tabs had started fitting
	into the metaphorical slots and they had become impossible to
	ignore, as the resulting papercraft devices had begun to made
	themselves apparent everywhere I looked.  I was starting to
	detect the seams in the walls.  Stress points in theoretical
	structures I had never before thought to examine.  Perhaps
	here I should pause and explain how this communication between
	myself and Sarcasm most often took form.  Generally, I do not
	think in words.  Cognition for me has always involved a series
	of images which fit together as multidimensional shapes, each
	distinguished by size, color and texture rather than by
	subject matter or meaning.  For example, for as long as I can
	remember, I have associated certain colors with the numerals
	zero through nine.  Zero is white, one is black, two is
	yellow, three is orange, four is blue, five is red­and so on.
	As a youth I would store and retrieve long strings of
	arbitrary numbers simply by arranging the colored blocks into
	an appropriate collage and committing said collage to visual
	memory.  So, groups of numbers naturally took on an aesthetic
	as well as a symbolic meaning.  Four quarters (yellow-red,
	yellow-red, yellow-red, yellow-red) made up one dollar
	(black-white-white).  Adding or subtracting blocks of colors
	was faster for me than learning'real' math.  It was mostly a
	subconscious substitution, but it worked approximately up
	until middle school, when we started to be taught branches of
	mathematics that cannot typically be solved'all in your head.'
	I had read an article in POPULAR SCIENCE or SCIENTIFIC
	AMERICAN or some other magazine around this time that stated
	the structure of the human brain made it impossible to solve
	complex algebra or geometry problems by simply thinking about
	them visually.  Well, this had the unfortunate stink of truth
	about it, whether it was true or not, and I was sold on the
	idea from that moment forward.  To this day, the colors go
	dead when I try to envision linear equations.  Silly, right?
	Anyway.  Incoming ideas typically flow across the ridges,
	valleys and other topographical surfaces of my consciousness
	and are, as I said, molded into multidimensional shapes that
	are then stored as visual memories.  Reasoning and deduction
	are simply a matter of arranging these shapes into
	aesthetically'correct' sequences and compositions.  Somehow,
	this visual logic seems to map.  It's a firm validation of the
	Platonic whateveryoucallit.  Placing all of my shapes into
	their natural positions, and then abstracting that visual
	record into a sequence of English words and phrases which are
	human-readable, seems to produce lucid thought that I am often
	told is remarkable for its clarity and insight.  Or, perhaps
	I'm merely deluding myself and I'm only mimicking the bits of
	language that I've managed to pick up from normal humans after
	hearing the words repeated over and over again.  Maybe this is
	all crap.  Either way, I've somehow managed to scratch out a
	modest living for close to twenty-seven years.  No one has had
	to help me wipe my own ass.  I often wonder if other human
	beings process language the same way that I do, but have
	merely failed to articulate the process in a coherent manner.
	Perhaps they create descriptions of their thought processes
	out of the more typical, flawed vernaculars, which
	unfortunately proceeds to shape their cognition and leave them
	striving to fulfill those false accounts with aggressive
	phenomenological action.  All of this would of course be at
	the expense of their own more naturally occurring mental
	rhythms.  The virus of language is a parasite feeding on the
	fat of the human mind.  In my case, my own communications with
	the archetypal concepts of Sarcasm and Messiah seems to have
	occurred on the sub-linguistic level of colors and shapes,
	which I have come to believe is nearer to our wetware than the
	instruction sets (in this case, the English language) with
	which we are trained from birth to hypnotize ourselves.  What
	if, through some fundamentally subterranean mechanism, we are
	unconsciously grouping items into structures that alter our
	English even before it bubbles into our internal stream of
	consciousness?  This is to say nothing of what inevitably
	comes spurting out of our mouths.  It was a sudden
	preponderance of recognizable patterns in my own linguistic
	reflexes­it seemed that someone had been sleeping in my bed,
	if you will­which, when decoded into English, produced a
	convincing resemblance to direct communication between myself
	and an outside force.  Was it apophenia?  Well, who can say?
	While it is true that there is an element of divining at play,
	the elaborate motifs which seemed to emerge in my reflexive
	patterns of thought cannot merely be dismissed as broadcast
	irritants, disrupting my mental space like so much rumbling of
	bass from a car down the street.  These patterns I've been
	describing would also respond to my probing.  That is to say,
	they would respond intelligibly.  Two-way communication was
	observed to occur.  Hence my references to a running dialogue
	between myself and the constructs.  Hence my mention of their
	offers and of my rejections.  Back at the end of the world,
	having taken several months to mull over the myriad of
	proportions and relationships which were emerging, screeching
	like peacocks from the amorphous collection of data swirling
	about in my brain case, fall, 1980, finally clawed its way
	into view.  I awoke one September morning full of the
	realization that I had somehow crept into my twenty-third
	year, relatively healthy and still firmly planted upon the
	surface of the planet.  Characteristically, my right-brain
	responded to this happy circumstance by cutting loose a sudden
	inundation of random stimulation.  Quantum foam fired in the
	widest possible distribution pattern.  My left-brain, shocked
	that this affront had issued from its own
	squirrel-in-the-wheel sibling, spontaneously divined a
	slipshod, though astonishingly practical organizational
	grammar with which to categorize all of the incoming data.  A
	dazzling display of battlefield competence, to be sure, but
	the flow of information was steadily increasing.  My
	left-brain, bristling now at how quickly its attempts at order
	had fallen into ruin, burrowed itself ever more deeply into
	the heaving bosom of...  labor politics.  To whit: lacking
	further resources, the faculties of my mind voted to enact an
	emergency work stoppage.  A rhetorical picket line was hastily
	erected between the two cranial hemispheres.  Turning to all
	of this hubbub consciously for the first time, I (that is to
	say, me) examined said goings-on, and after a certain period
	of solemn consideration, decided that union busting was more
	trouble than it was worth.  I would simply pretend that the
	situation did not exist.  I would ignore my predicament and
	avert my attention to whatever new, interesting and (no doubt)
	more entertaining thoughts were sure to come traipsing along.
	My left-brain and right-brain could resolve their differences
	without my help.  My friend, I say this plainly and it is
	true: ideas are a dime a dozen.  Ignore one, and ten thousand
	spring up to take its place.  If I do not care for the
	direction of a given narrative, I delete it.  Even if the
	ideas do address me audibly and directly, well, that doesn't
	mean I am bound to listen.  I don't owe them anything, least
	of all a reply.  Life is too short to indulge every pointless
	discrepancy of visual-spatial logic.  Let them try to overload
	me.  They can't force water into a plugged drain.  Getting
	drawn into these whirlwinds is simply a waste of my time.
	Better to pull the hood down over my face.  Place my hands
	over my ears.  No, I am not available to come to the phone
	right now, and please do not bother me again.  Thank you for
	your consideration.  Pray, what's for dinner?  The year slunk
	by.  I gained skill and efficiency at ignoring the stacks of
	interlocking realities.  Under the stern tutelage of that
	conscientious ringmaster, ignorance, the serendipitous
	connections began to fade.  Mind the gap, right-brain, the
	ringmaster would shout, and so on.  This system checks and
	balances kept the situation neatly under my control.  Over
	time, I devised a further arsenal of rhetorical tricks for
	identifying and severing new visual-spatial connections even
	before their roots could take hold.  My techniques proved
	surprisingly efficacious.  Almost before I knew it, my
	twenty-fourth birthday was upon me.  I looked back on the
	previous year with a certain contempt for the time spent
	culling all of this useless cruft from the stream of my
	thoughts.  I was not getting much else done.  But overall I
	retained a sense of accomplishment.  The occasional ray of
	satisfaction seeped through.  Gently drawing the curtain, the
	fall sunshine felt good in my cold, gray room.  The morning of
	September 11, 1981, I awoke alone in my bed.  I pulled sweet
	breaths through a sincere smile and let the top of my head
	rest against the cool metal bars of my bed frame.  Before
	opening my eyes, I mashed my face back into my pillow and
	relished that I was finally (almost) home free.  One more day
	to go.  And then it would all be over.  Goodbye, twenty-three;
	hello, twenty-four with an"l." I relaxed, sighed richly, and
	thought to myself (in English), Well, I've made it.  Nothing
	horrendous is going to happen to me just because I've survived
	to twenty-four years of age.  I guess it's time to outgrow all
	of this superstitious nonsense about the number twenty-three
	and get on with my life.  So what if the symbols and syntax of
	temporal reality continue to combine obvious configurations
	that seem to beg acknowledgment, comment and/or intervention?
	I will ignore it all, straighten my posture and affirm that,
	on the contrary, all of this 'clairvoyant' horseshit
	and'spatial reasoning' bollocks has been nothing more than a
	series of convenient hallucinations.  It was really quite
	simple, in the end, to walk away from the flood of data and to
	get on with my life.  So now then, I admonished myself, let's
	get up, shave our face, and get the hell in to work before
	we're late for our shift.  I should say, it was quite a relief
	to finally be rid of the shit-flinging, psychic monkey on my
	back.  No more looking for the seams in things.  No more
	seeing those seams whether I wanted to or not.  From that
	morning forward, with the aid of my trusted ringmaster,
	ignorance, I would resolve to translate the multidimensional
	shapes and colors of my thoughts into English prior to
	becoming aware of them.  I possessed the machinery.  I could
	ignore it all.  Let God or the Devil sort it out.  Life would
	prove so much easier.  Groggily, I pulled on my socks and made
	my way into the living room.  I clicked on the television just
	in time to see a jetliner bury itself into the World Trade
	Center and explode.  I guess you could say that in that
	moment, everything changed.  So much for my upcoming vacation,
	I thought to myself.  Sarcasm had always been a great
	practical joker.

All of this from the other side of the port hole.

I edged backwards, unconsciously.

Presently, awareness resumed and I leaped for the curtain. Tom's
babbling was cut off by the downward arc of my sleeve. I straightened.
I had barely escaped with my life.

Then nothing. Silence.

After a few moments, it seemed that the disturbance had faded. I
decided to take another peek. I inched over to the porthole and slowly
drew back the curtain.

That proved to be a mistake.

THE PUBLIC GREEN

tags: 2188, albert_lunsford, rimbaud

Redaction Day festivities were well underway by the time Rimbaud
arrived on the Public Green. Green Ladies, resplendent in their
traditional attire, ensured that every mug remained filled; or in any
case, that each did not remain empty for long. This was fortunate,
since a lot of important talking was taking place under the big
canvases. Tempers would buffer in the mugs.

Rimbaud approached a food tent and ran his eyes over the menu. I can't
eat here, he thought. He moved to another tent and found himself in
much the same predicament. Pork. Beef hearts. Nothing of substance.
Typically, there were no vegetables to be found at any of the stalls.
And the real animal flesh would only send him into allergic fits.

Near the edge of the Green, Rimbaud noticed a small group of children
huddled around a wounded animal. The creature seemed to be mechanical
in nature. Likely little more than an evolved toy. The young people
were painting designs on its exposed flesh with dabs of white mud. He
reflected that the mud in question normally anchored the grass of the
Public Green.

This Redaction Day, Rimbaud had promised himself only limited
interaction with his employees. But the flux of the crowd had made
that impossible, as every attendee was expected to issue a lively
greeting to whomever he passed in the isles. Rimbaud observed that
standing in one place for too long would lead to being ground under by
the aggregate mob. Consequently, he'd kept moving and had already come
face to face with most of his subordinates several times.

What, exactly, he wondered, was really being redacted here? Rimbaud
surveyed the crowd and detected no sign of the ostensible paring away
of cumulative excess. To him, it seemed the surplus interactions were
multiplying.

A group of students had gathered on the Green to search for their
friend. As a regular participant in the Redaction Day preparations, it
was most unlike their companion to wander off just as his toil was
finally coming to fruition. But: vanish he had, and under the most
peculiar of circumstances. One moment he had been present, and the
next he had seemed to disappear without a trace.

At first Rimbaud could not avoid overhearing them. After a few moments
he could no longer prevent himself from joining in.

"Ask yourselves this," he said."Why is it that this man is in the
Off-White House? The majority of North Americans did not vote for him.
Why is he there? I tell you this morning that he is in the Off-White
House because God put him there. God put him there to lead not only
this nation but to lead the world in a time such as this."

"I­"

Rimbaud stammered, unsure of himself.

"I don't know why I said that."

"El Nortes," one of the children remarked.

Something in Rimbaud caught on the phrase. Unraveled. He felt as if he
had lost control of his vocal chords.

"True enough. But there is a difference between quoting from academic
sources, which Albert mostly avoids, and quoting from mass media
sources (i.e., telescreen), which is mostly what Albert does. When he
approaches feminism as an intellectual construct, it doesn't bolster
his points to attack the watered-down, simplified, fatuous pablum that
passes for a given'movement' or strain of thought on the telescreen.
What he does by gathering all of these strains under the same umbrella
is akin to what journalists do when they headline articles about
Albert Lunsford's comics with blurbs like'Biff! Bam! Slap!'"

With this, he had captured the children's full attention. One of them
ventured a response.

"By my understanding, that is generally correct. But I do think there
is a sort of'trickle-down' effect from academia to popular culture.
Albert vacillates between crediting academia with benign progress on
the one hand and accusing it of the malicious destruction of society
on the other. But in both cases he acknowledges academia's
contribution to pop-feminism."

Rimbaud offered no objection, so the boy continued.

"It is true that the overwhelming preponderance of super-heroes in the
medium renders comics, for most people, a form that is strictly about
super-heroes. But the interesting thing with regards to Lunsford is
that, following his own logic, the aforementioned dominance of
super-heroes also renders Albert Lunsford, himself, an
atheist/marxist/feminist."

"Allow me to explain."

"Most comic books are about super-heroes. Therefore, comic books are
about super-heroes."

"Most comic books are about super-heroes and are created by atheists.
Therefore, comic books are about super-heroes and are created by
atheists."

"Most comic books are about super-heroes and are created by atheists
who are also feminists. Therefore, comic books are about super-heroes
and are created by atheists who are also feminists."

"You can see where this is leading, I'm sure."

"Most comic books are about super-heroes and are created by atheists
who are also feminists who are also marxists. Therefore, comic books
are about super-heroes and are created by atheists who are also
feminists who are also marxists."

"And finally... Albert Lunsford creates comic books. Therefore, Albert
Lunsford is an atheist and a feminist and a marxist, and his comic
book work is comprised exclusively of the all-ages adventures of
traditional American super-heroes."

"Clearly, if Albert does not wish to be associated with these
atheists, feminists, and/or marxists, as well as the sorts of people
who give two shits about super-heroes, he should stop referring to his
work as'comic books,' and/or abandon the medium entirely. Thus,
responsibility for his public image is placed squarely upon his own
shoulders. If he does not publicly disassociate himself from the
medium of comics, he is implicitly supporting the groups identified as
participants in the medium, and therefore society will have no choice
but to lump him in with them and treat him accordingly."

The boy who had first responded to Rimbaud raised his hand and
simultaneously resumed the conversation without waiting to be
acknowledged.

"But that's playing fast and loose with the terms we've already agreed
have specific meanings (as Albert himself does in so many areas, i.e.,
marxism, atheism, etc.). Albert doesn't qualify his statements the way
you are trying to do for him. He rejects the notion that there is any
difference at all between these classifications. Atheist, marxist,
feminist­to him, they're all the same thing. In this way, he's exactly
right that his arguments are'unassailable,' because he has completely
removed the ability to distinguish one concept from another."

"His way of approaching classification just doesn't scale. In fact,
this inability to scale is precisely why Albert, in other discussions,
has railed against the erosion of grammatical and syntactical rules in
the English language. Pretty soon, people are redrawing the boundaries
of what words mean to fit their arguments, which allows them to alter
history without even changing the text!"

Rimbaud offered his summation:"As with his enemies, Lunsford merely
distorts the context of a given discussion to support his
pre-determined thesis."

A boy who had been seated on the opposite side of the circle now stood
up and joined the discussion.

"Yes, and every time I would point out one of these collisions of
mutually exclusive claims, Albert would just say that the explanation
was self-evident to those who had already joined'his team.'"

Rimbaud:"And that's why, no matter how far he travels in search of new
ideas, he will only ever succeed in rediscovering the tropes he
brought along with him. He proceeds from the premise that he's
addressing emotional irrationality and­surprise of all surprises­he
arrives at the'valuable confirmation' that he has indeed been
addressing emotional irrationality. Is he really seeking after Truth,
at all, or is he simply riffing on foregone conclusions? Well, it's a
bit of a trick question. He admits that he's merely riffing on
foregone conclusions! Every event, whatever the outcome, is merely new
evidence that he was right all along. And that's usually the totality
of his argument. I think, therefore you're wrong. Back in 1974, I
might have kept faith that his essays were leading up to something
meaningful. But how long am I expected to wait for the prize? There is
no there there. A smooth writing style will only carry you so far. He
kept, and keeps, shifting the floor beneath the reader. Every
declarative phrase doubles back and ties itself into his
atheist/theist binary. He's gone completely off the rails as far as
constructing an'airtight argument' (as he calls it) is concerned. The
obvious charge here is confirmation bias, and Albert Lunsford is
history's most egregious offender.

Rimbaud stopped. Looked around. What was he saying? Where had all of
this come from?

The crowd outside the Green continued to churn, oblivious to his
befuddlement.

He glanced around the circle of children, who were still lobbing balls
of paint onto the mechanical animal. None of their mouths were moving.
Their body language suggested that they had not even noticed his
presence.

He could feel himself losing control of the situation.

"No, no, no. Women are clinically insane, but Albert Lunsford cannot
be schizophrenic because psychiatry is not a valid science."

"I think his mental health is sort of a non-issue. Albert interprets
it as the fulcrum his freedom hinges upon; but since he is, so far as
we know, not a danger to anyone else and since he does, so far as we
know, manage to take care of himself, I really don't think anyone
cares. I know I don't care, personally, whether or not he's considered
'crazy.'"

"Albert, for his part, seems to think that the whole of society is
waiting on pins and needles, anxious for him to die. Now really. I
think he tends to overestimate the common man's awareness of his
oeuvre. Most of society doesn't even know he exists. When people call
him'insane,' I don't think they mean for men in white coats to
forcibly remove him from the Off-White House and drag him off to some
kind of state-run facility. I think the people he's really worried
about­some small percentage of his peers in the industry­see him as
either an amusing crank or as a sad example of what happens when a man
convinces himself he's the only person on Earth with access to The
Truth. Just because people make fun of him being overdue for his meds
doesn't mean they are going to come and strap him into a chair, inject
him with marxist / feminist / atheist / homosexualist meta-proteins."

"The fact that he was actually committed to an institution once,
against his will, probably contributes to his paranoia about the
perception of his mental health. Perhaps this fear is exacerbated by
his vast experience with hallucinogens, as he may have acquired some
idea of what psychotropic medications would do to him. My own parents
took me to a psychiatrist once, against my will, and I can say that I
was quite belligerent in my response. But I was not given medication,
and in fact I was not even held overnight for observation. The
psychiatrists seemed confused as to why I had been brought there in
the first place. Given his hostility towards psychiatry, I can only
assume Albert was treated differently."

"If one examines the timeline of recriminations between Albert and the
comic book industry, it is interesting to observe the escalating
pattern of self-ostracization Albert has enacted over the past several
years. I do not dismiss what his latest published material purports
itself to be about, but it is instructive to note that Albert's latest
theories have expanded to encompass a neat explanation of why he is no
longer a fan-favorite creator, and why his latest works have failed to
garner the universal acclaim he seems to think they deserve. He
obviously has a very high opinion of himself, and requires a
corresponding explanation as to why the rest of the world doesn't hold
him in similar esteem. It's fascinating to me that the very tenacity
and pigheadedness that make him so difficult to interact with also
seem to be precisely the traits that have enabled him to complete his
multitudinous extended works. I think this is where Ian Kenny's
observations have been centered: Kenny marvels that Albert's
single-minded determination has resulted in the self-destruction of
his critical faculties­that is to say, his vanished ability to
honestly evaluate himself. At the same time, he has turned the
remainder of that focus outward, towards the world. With that in mind,
I don't just think Ian is being a'fuckwit,' as you put it. He sort of
has a point. Others would no doubt remind us that Albert has always
been closed off to intimacy, and that he has only stopped portrayed
himself otherwise since the summer of 1974.)"

Finally, Rimbaud began to wind down. He seemed to have said his piece.

"I'm sort of getting tired of this relentless harping on the negative
aspects of Albert's philosophies and his approach to arguing them. But
dammit, it seems to me that even the people who explicitly admit they
are opposed to everything he stands for never seem to criticize him on
the right points. I tried writing to him and taking him to task in
private, but as we know, Albert is famously unreceptive to real
intellectual debate. He prefers to maintain the authorial distance. Or
the authorial authority, if you will. All of you folks who hold it as
an article of faith that Albert is unfailingly polite and
self-effacing to his fans; well, it's hardly a constant, as many of us
have learned through hard experience."

It finally dawned on Rimbaud that none of this business about Albert
Lunsford was actually happening on the Public Green. What he was
feeling, seeing and hearing was nothing more than a resonant echo of
the original Redaction Day. What he seemed to be interacting with was,
in reality, merely a facet of the city's holiday decorations. His mesh
transceivers had passed on the data unchecked. What a clever
presentation, he thought.

Before he could tear himself away from the simulation, one of the
children who had been painting the artificial animal appeared at his
side and began tugging on his shirtsleeve. He bent down so the child
could whisper in his ear.

"Keep your mouth shut. Don't listen to the worries inside," said the
child.

More of the ritual dialogue.

In light of Albert Lunsford's harsh example, Rimbaud considered it
good advice.

MOUNTAINS OF WHITE

tags: 1986, 4086, dexter_styles, gravy_needs, piro, shit_mold, tab2

Thomas resumed haranguing Piro through the port hole.

"You have to listen to me. You have to come back with me to 1986."

"You've been talking for half an hour. Oh, the plight of the noble
graphic designer."

"I'm serious, Piotr."

"I can tell. And I bet you guys are having quite a laugh at my
expense. Well, Ramadan's almost over. You'll be back here soon enough
and then I'll have my revenge."

"This is not a practical joke, Piro!"

"Prove it. Walk me through the challenge and response."

"Was there ever a God?" asked Piro, commencing the sequence.

"Once. A long, long time ago," answered Thomas.

They continued in this vein for some time, until Piro had satisfied
himself that everything checked out. Once Thomas had successfully
authenticated his identity, Piro allowed the conversation to continue.

"Why me?" he finally asked, rubbing his eyes.

Gravy Needs hovered around the corner. Piro was not aware that the
King had called an early end to the holiday.

This was fucking great.

"Because we're twin brothers."

"Tom, that's impossible. You're from two thousand years ago."

"..."

"Furthermore, we look nothing alike."

"Not all twins are identical," said Thomas.

"And not all floating heads tell the truth," said Piro.

Stalemate.

"MAKE WAY FOR KING SHIT!"

Piro and Tom's brotherly reunion was interrupted by the return of the
King. King Theodosius Shit Mold's entourage marched into the room,
elbowing Piro away from the port hole. The flap closed and no one
seemed to notice the floating head outside the window. Dexter Styles,
the King's Chancellor, took up his usual position between the King and
the rest of the group.

"Let it hereafter be known that King Shit has returned to the
station!" he declared.

The King reclined on his portable throne, his leg dangling over an
armrest.

"Indulge me," said the King to Piro."Why did you stay behind?"

"Your Highness," Piro bowed deeply,"My duties..."

The King put up his hand, as if to punctuate Piro's excessive
babbling."Eff that noise. From now on, I want you by my side at all
times. I've grand designs on your future, Piotr."

Piro bowed again.

A low rumble issued from the port hole. The flap blew back and the
makeshift throne room was once again flooded with pale, colorless
light.

"I wasn't finished," said Thomas Bright, Jr. through the port hole.

King Shit leaned forward as if to affirm his interest in the present
goings-on.

"By all means, do carry on," smirked the King.

Gravy Needs was delighted. He hadn't intended for the King to become
involved. But now that he had, the hilarity could only increase.

Gravy punched up the others on his forearm and quickly told them all
the news. Stifled laughs echoed in the close chamber. Gravy blipped
off and resumed his manipulations of the Court.

"I'm here to retrieve my brother," continued Thomas."There's trouble
back home, and he's needed to help smooth over the discontent."

"Ah, I am empathetic to family problems," allowed the King.

"This is more than just a family problem. There's also a weird anomaly
that threatens to engulf the entire universe."

"And only Piro can save us?" laughed the King, incredulously.

"That's my position, yes," answered Thomas.

The Court fell silent, waiting for the King to respond.

Shit Mold could see that Thomas was going to stand firm on his
position. Such gallantry touched him deeply, reminding him of comic
book stories from his youth.

"Very well then. It would amuse me to observe your adventures from
remote. Piro! Pack up your monitoring kit. You're headed for the
1980s!"

Thomas bit his lip and slowly shook his head in affirmation of his
victory.

At last, his brother was returning to him. At last, the team would be
whole.

Together again for the first time.

Piro climbed into his vehicle and switched on some soft music.
Vangelis, as usual. Thomas' head appeared, floating above the
passenger seat beside him. The two brothers traveled sans
conversation, which was fine with Piro. He needed time to think.

Gravy Needs had not anticipated that the King would send Piro away.
For all his trouble, the butt of his prank had been effectively
promoted to field work.

I hate Ramadan, he thought.

Moments after Piro engaged the ship's percept drive, the orbital
station had begun to undergo a series of complex, unorthodox changes.
As the transformations progressed, the station wobbled gradually in
and out of sight. The station's engineers were befuddled by the day's
events.

Within an hour of the brothers' departure, the anomaly Thomas had
described had expanded to absorb the station in its entirety. No one
had expected it to expand so quickly. Least of all Piro.

The King, from his vantage point atop the many phonebooks stacked
beneath his posterior, had been blessed to see it all coming. Perched
on his throne, he tittered and giggled at the symmetry between the
waves of monochrome light on screen and the mountains of white powder
piled on the table before him.

There was so much white, everywhere.

He sniffled as the station shuddered and faded from memory.

`86

tags: 1986, freeway_ricky_ross, piro, tab1, tab2

Piro eased back on the throttle and the ship came to a stop.

"All right," he said."We're here."

Thomas eyed him.

"Let's get started."

Thomas' floating head flickered out of view and was replaced by a
light rapping on the passenger side window. Piro depressed a switch on
his console and the window slid down.

"This way, my man," Thomas said, motioning with his thumb.

"This is our guy on the inside. Handle: Freeway Ricky Ross. Real name:
Rick."

"Pleased to make your acquaintance, Rick."

Ricky nodded.

"We've been making a lot of progress. We did three hundred million
last year in uncut bricks. But Ricky's got a line on some sweet
chemistry and we've been able to step on these new shipments up to ten
times before sending them out to the street. And it sells just as well
as the raw."

Piro made a low whistle, pretending he understood what Thomas was
talking about.

"The small-time dealers love it. Maximal return on a minimal
investment."

"I own five houses," said Ricky.

"It's become an epidemic," complained Thomas, suddenly forlorn."In
spite of our best efforts, Crack is still flooding our streets."

"But­"

Piro's face contorted in spite of himself. He couldn't quite make up
his mind if Thomas was being sarcastic.

He started again.

"But you're the ones selling it!"

"Not to worry. We fold all of the profits back into our war on drugs."

Piro shook his head.

"That makes no sense at all."

"That's exactly why we need your help. There are still some kinks in
the process that need to be ironed out. Something has got to be done
about the spread of illegal drugs, and quickly. People are dying out
there, Piotr."

Freeway Ricky Ross leaned back against the hood of his Impala. He
hated this part; waiting for Thomas to make his pitch to some new
investor was more boring than going to church. He pulled out his
briefcase and mulled over some past due paperwork. This new lawyer...
No one could read his handwriting. Ricky snapped the briefcase shut
and smoked a menthol cigarette. He suddenly noticed that someone had
scuffed his Chuck Taylors.

Piro and Thomas had taken a circuitous route around the parking lot.
Now they were making their way back towards Ricky. They seemed to
still be discussing the preliminaries even as their voices drifted
within earshot.

"Basically, I bought the Chrysler Building."

"..."

"Don't look at me like that. We needed the room."

"You founded a super-hero team­funded by drug money­to fight drug
dealers."

"Among other things, yes."

Piro could feel his eyes popping out of his head. Thomas was almost
thirty years old. This kind of self-destructive behavior was
inexcusable. But it was true, he had managed to amass some impressive
resources. Piro stared off into the Los Angeles smog, weighing the
situation.

"Almost nothing about this appeals to me. All right, I'll make an
exception for a few of your acquisitions. Did you know that the
Chrysler Building is still standing in 4086? Owned by the Crown."

"Huh. You don't say."

"Actually, I operated out of the 61st floor for several years, myself,
training new recruits."

"Yeah, I remember that training. Dad really had a hard-on for your
teaching methods. He always used to tell the rookies,'If you survive
one of Piro's seminars, you're hired.' Seemed to think that was
hilarious for some reason. Of course, years later I told him about
your Blythe collection."

Piro laughed."Who do you think got me started on the doll collecting,
idiot."

Thomas smiled at him warmly.

Things were falling into place, just as he'd hoped.

"Well Thomas, I'm a little perturbed that you've brought me back in
time under false pretenses. Crack cocaine is hardly set to swallow the
known universe. But now that I'm here... Well, what the hell. I can
see that you've got yourself a heaping full plate. You're going to
need all the help you can get dealing with this problem you've
unleashed on the inner city. It probably wasn't such a bad idea for
you to get me involved."

"I'm sure dad would agree."

"Please, tell me he doesn't know anything about your drug dealing,"
admonished Piro.

"Relax," said Ricky, flicking his cigarette over the hood of the
Impala."He's in Japan."

"The man has full-clearance access to the mesh, Rick." Piro made a
face at him, emphasizing the obvious conclusion."If he hasn't already
involved himself in this scheme it probably just means you haven't
been paying close enough attention to the books."

"I resent that," said Ricky."We've spent a lot of money on
accountants."

New York.

The Chrysler Building.

It felt strange to once again be standing on the 61st floor
observation deck. Piro tilted his head so that his bangs partially
shielded him from the setting sun. He pondered the circumstances which
had led up to this present eventuality.

Thomas had fallen asleep in his apartment downstairs. Freeway Ricky
had stayed behind in L.A., in order to keep an eye on the business.
Someone had to do it, he had said. Consequently, Piro had been able to
claim most of the 61st floor for himself. Just like old times. In
point of fact, some of his old gear from the 1960s was still locked up
in the building's armory.

As Piro's gaze drifted across the city below, he wondered if Thomas
was aware that he had burned up the remainder of his fuel in the
process of getting them back to 1986. As a result, the RAGNAROK was
parked indefinitely within the present temporal frame. Its percept
drive had run clean out of new perspectives. Face it, there was
nothing new to be learned from the past.

No matter. It was true there was a lot of work to be done, here, in
1986. It could hardly matter if Thomas had deliberately deceived him.
Petty manipulations were not at the forefront of his mind. In any
case, it would make little sense for Piro to complain about being lied
to at this late stage in the game.

So, his plans would change.

He willed himself to narrow his focus, concentrating, with some
effort, solely on the mission at hand. Stopping the crack cocaine
epidemic before it destroyed the country, if not the entire world.

Piro checked the logins on his weapons and unlatched his backpack. He
withdrew the necessary equipment and prepared to launch himself over
the wall of the observation deck. Before he new it, he was once again
repelling down the side of the Chrysler Building. This familiar action
pleased him, and he accelerated with deliberate speed.

The fading sun reflected at right angles against the skyscraper's face
as Piro descended its smooth, featureless surface, pacing himself to
the rhythm of the city.

Down, down, down.

PIECES OF FILTH

tags: 1886, haus_mold, jerrymander_mold

Haus was down. Jerrymander sank backwards into the wagon and hugged
his satchel. The Mold family backups.

More shots rang out from the top of the canyon. A gurgle came out of
Haus. He would be useless for at least another hour.

The Secret Service detail had vanished into the brush.

These fools worshiped a blank sheet of paper. Any blank sheet of
paper. Considered them sacred. That's why they didn't like it when you
filled them with words.

And Jerrymander Mold had gotten an awful lot of ink. According to the
Blanks (as they were known), excess quantities of pulp were spoiled
disseminating the tales of his exploits. Naturally, such tended to
happen when you were the President of the United States, but the
Blanks refused to abide the extraordinary circumstances. The simple
inevitability of the press' fascination with power was considered, by
their stubborn, peculiar order, to be no excuse. They declared
Jerrymander responsible for the destruction of the 25 lb., white bond
industry. The market had proven incapable of fulfilling wartime
demand. Therefore, President Mold, as the dominant public figure of
the war, was obviously to blame for the industry's collapse.

Haus had uncovered only minimal data on their rituals, but it had been
enough to put the fear of the Green into Jerrymander. By his
reckoning, they indulged in blatantly inhumane practices. And now they
had tracked him into the canyon.

Echoes of movement had been detected nearby. Or so Jerrymander
calculated the delay. He hesitated to peek over the side of the wagon.
He could see nothing but the sky and the western rim of the canyon,
straight ahead of him.

Ten minutes elapsed with no further shots fired. Jerrymander assumed
the Blanks had moved on, but he declined to relax his grip on the
satchel.

By any means necessary, the backups must be preserved.

Two hours elapsed. Jerrymander pulled out a blank sheet of paper and
investigated it in the failing sunlight. It looked normal enough to
him. He felt no particular spiritual stirring. Of course, the nature
of his mechanical body guaranteed that this would be the case. He
found himself absent the necessary hardware to affect faith, even if
his ghost had been willing. The virgin rectangle of white paper looked
very much to him like a virgin rectangle of white paper. It lay spread
out on his hand, motionless and lacking in semantic content. He turned
it over and examined it at different angles, but could only derive
this same, dispassionate reading.

Haus started awake with a gasp. He spit blood on the floor of the
wagon, all the while cursing the name of the Green.

"These people are truly trying my patience," he remarked, bitterly.

"I know what you mean. First they elect me, and then they want to kill
me just because I find it insensible to worship reams of tractor-feed
printer paper."

"It's amazing they've tolerated you for so long."

Jerrymander threw up his hands."They're a guerrilla force. The Federal
government is fat and slow. Furthermore, the recalcitrant aesthetic
appeals to the mainstream. These are not the ingredients of an
Administration victory."

The horses were tired. Haus decided that the wagon could afford to
stay put until morning, even in its disadvantaged position. He'd
finally gotten the shields up and running. At first light he'd try to
track down the awol SS men, while Jerrymander made a beeline for the
Continuity of Government bunker thirty miles to the north. The
President would be safe there, provided he didn't run into any more
Blanks along the way.

They divided the backups between themselves according to family
protocol. Haus carefully punched out duplicates of everything they
had. He took the originals and gave his new copies to the President.
If either of them were captured or killed, at least one full copy
would survive. If both of them were captured or killed, the
preservation of the archive would be irrelevant anyway. They were the
only remaining Molds left alive, and it took a living Mold to resume a
saved state.

Haus realized then that the Molds were the precise antithesis of
everything the Blanks stood for.

All the more reason to survive.

Jerrymander dreamed of white squares in space. He conceived them
almost as overlapping pixels, multiplying until they blotted out the
stars and planets. In his dream, he observed the total heat death of
the universe, presented as a linear narrative spanning the spectrum
from red shift to blue shift. Near the end, the white squares took on
a pale, greenish hue.

He fancied he could make out some meaningful pattern in the mesh of
interlocking pixels. The whole enterprise brought to mind Penrose
tiles. He felt that there must be some significance to the display
that he couldn't quite grasp. Even in his dream he was frustrated that
the solution seemed to languish just out of reach.

Jerrymander awoke with a crick in his neck. He ran some diagnostics
and adjusted the latches of his spine, but this action only minimally
reduced his discomfort. He realized then that he felt cold and reached
for his jacket. He could definitely do with better weather. The skin
on his knuckles was starting to crack.

Haus had set off without waking him. It was just as well that they
split up early in the day. Jerrymander checked his rifles and made
sure his internal GPS was functioning as expected. Presently, he
yanked on the reigns. The horses roused groggily to cruise velocity.

As the wagon drug forward, each horse evacuated its bowels, one after
the other, in an alternating pattern of green and brown.

The dust of the trail caught in Jerrymander's teeth. His grimace felt
permanent, fixed in place.

He was embarrassed to admit that the smell of the horses bothered him.

DESCENT OF MIND

tags: 1985, albert_lunsford, ian_kenny, saito

	Saito:

	I write to you with news of Albert's worsening condition.  One
	moment he is digressing about Kant and the next he has picked
	up a kitchen appliance and is bashing himself in the face.  I
	am increasingly frightened that he will do irreparable damage
	to himself.  When I'm not around, he calls me almost every
	day.  But I cannot answer his calls anymore­not for any lack
	of sympathy, understand, but for time.  After five minutes he
	forgets he's called and tries to call again.  This can go on
	for hours.  I think it matters very little whether I answer or
	not, as he won't remember either way.  In spite of my fears
	for his safety, I really don't think my presence or my words
	mitigate the danger.  When I do answer, speaking to him
	meaningfully is an occluded impossibility, as he rarely
	understands what I'm trying to say.  He seems to be losing
	comprehension of even simple language.  I now manage his
	percept from remote with an automated script.  The program
	runs continuously, even when I am otherwise preoccupied.  I
	check the log messages most mornings.  I still visit him once
	a week and help him arrange his grocery deliveries,
	medications, and so on.  He is no longer capable of caring for
	himself in essential matters.  I have to put his hand on the
	pressure screen at the appropriate times.  His notebooks have
	degenerated, devolved over time into page upon page of
	scratches, really nothing more than dots and dashes.  I don't
	believe he is writing in Morse code.  He doesn't even attempt
	to draw anymore.  The systems in his apartment could take care
	of all his basic needs, but I am reluctant to cut off contact
	on account of his obvious loneliness.  He has begun to confuse
	me with members of his family who are long dead.  My
	understanding is that your work has taken a turn towards
	success, as of late, and that the advances you are making
	every day may be of some benefit to Albert.  Things used make
	sense to him, Saito.  To us.  In spite of our earlier
	discussion on these matters, I must appeal to you yet again to
	reconsider your blunt rejection of his case.  Surely you have
	some leeway in who you treat.  Won't you please try to help
	him, if you are able.  I implore you, Saito.

	Ian Kenny


END BOOK TWO

BOOK THREE

NANA.TECH

tags: 1928, nana_mold, plinth_mold

Diagoro relaxed his stance only a little as Grandma hobbled over to
the cupboard. By the Orb on the kitchen counter, he could see that
traffic out of the San Jose backbone was slowly reaching its peak.
Very little time now. Grandma jumped when the teacups reached parity,
and for a moment he thought that she might be in danger of fainting,
toppling over. A reassuring expression of recognition (resignation?)
gradually bled into her face, and she settled back down into her
slippers, returning to the cupboard as the black tide line in each
porcelain vessel miscegenated with 2% milk.

"There's really not time for this, Nana," Diagoro breathed thickly.

"You just close your ill-filtering little mouth. You'll eat this and
you'll like it. And then we can go and put down your little foreign
barbarian whore or whoever it is this time and I'll wear a smile for
you then."

Grandma pressed brittle hands into her apron, smearing grease from her
tools onto the linen. She snapped closed the aluminum case of her
rifle. After tonight she would tell Diagoro, like so many before him,
that he was a Mold.

For now, she simply said:

"I'm going to shoot this bitch myself."

STARTING THEM YOUNG

tags: 1935, nana_mold, plinth_mold

Tomorrow is a holiday, but today is not. My parents are both at work,
and I'm stuck here at the babysitter's house, sitting out the two or
three or four hours that I'll be trapped in this room, lying on my
pallet, dreaming without sleep about every possible other thing I
could be doing with my time. I don't know why she locks me in here.

Granny is not really my grandmother. But that does not keep her from
closing me up into the spare bedroom after lunch, leaving me there
until shortly before my parents arrive to take me home. What am I
meant to be doing, during all of this time? Granny has not been
forthcoming on the subject.

Today's focus is a new assortment of military adventure toys.
Specifically, the pre-visualization of a flying machine whose swept
wings must be made to contract upon the release of a certain switch­I
presume to be located somewhere along the aircraft's aft fuselage. I'm
having a bit of trouble figuring out precisely how the wing mechanism
will work. Something to do with strings or wires of some sort, all
obfuscated from the child/operator. The picture is as yet fuzzy...

Also up for review is a full-size, realistic combat uniform, infused
with what I will for marketing purposes refer to as"the scent of
battle." These two ideas should tide me over until the big door
unlocks, clicks open at around four o'clock. If I concentrate upon
this pair of images intently enough, conceive of them in great enough
detail, covering every possible feature, I am convinced­no, I am
certain ­that they will have materialized in my bedroom closet by the
time I get home. It is not clear why I choose to believe in this
notion, but I confess that I do. I suppose such activity amuses me.
Consider my age.

First then, the aircraft.

"Dad is insatiable screwing his daughter," a voice states, aloud,
sounding quite desperate to be heard. It is only mildly distracting as
I am quite used to this sort of thing by now. I shrug vaguely without
losing my train of thought. Laughable, really, these attempts at
derailing my creative process.

"Japanese teen showing her hairy pussy," the voice continues. I have
no trouble ignoring the outburst, and so carry on with my daydreaming
as if no auditory phenomena were taking place. All is calm.

"Homeless guy wearing a brand new 8-ball jacket."

That, I'm sorry to admit, tears it. I have finally had enough. I
straighten myself and reply:

"Little cutie screams as she gets drilled on her new boss' desk. Okay?
Is that what you wanted to hear? May I proceed now?"

I have prepared myself for a dramatic pause, but the voices promptly
dissolve into a perfect silence. Indeed, one could almost be lulled
into sleep in this quiet. Would that all of my projects could be
undertaken in such sublime stillness. I'm quite certain that the
balance of my output would yield a sharp increase in quality.

"Now," I think to myself,"Let's get back to work."

Before long, the voices are at it again.

"Innocent Gays getting modernistic IT anally."

This time, I don't even dignify the disruption with a response. Why do
they bother? I'm simply not interested.

And yet, I have to admit that the voices have once again succeeded in
distracting my attention. Remarkable, these recent advances in advert
technology.

Granny knocks gently as she enters, clutching a packet of my
medications. She casts a knowing look as she unscrews the bottles,
sorting the myriad variety of colored pellets into the concave
depressions of her tray. Her eyes caress me with warm approval as I
accept the arrangement of doses and commence popping pills.

"You were diddling yourself in here again, weren't you, Plinth."

"No," I say."You're hearing things, old woman."

I think she is smiling at me but it's difficult to tell because she is
so old that her face appears quite wrinkled even when she is asleep,
or watching her programs on telescreen. Is that a smile, or is it
merely the untreated cracking of leather?

I assume she was joking, that she didn't actually see me with my hands
in my pants.

There. Now I am certain she is smiling. This is preposterous. As if I
needed more variables to consider.

I am tired. Much too tired to continue.

Where are my parents?

That's all for today, Diary. EOF

AWAKENING THE SELF

tags: 1944, plinth_mold

If there is a test, chances are he will pass. But he is never quite
sure if he really understands the answers, or if he has merely derived
them from some calculus of the movement of language. Has communication
truly taken place? And if so, how does he know that he knows? This
problem of knowledge goes deeper for him (he suspects) than for any of
the other boys; he is certain that the others are secure both in their
answers and in the thoughts which (he is also certain) inform them.
Much unlike himself, unfortunately. What good is the right answer if
it still doesn't make any sense?

He is provided a worksheet. On it are inscribed a series of symbols he
does not understand. Above the symbols are situated photographs of the
room he has just vacated. He studies the paper and notices that, in
one of the photos, a mesh transceiver has been placed behind the
couch. The angle of the photograph is such that the placement of the
transceiver is clearly intended to be noticed. But what is the
transceiver for? That information is not provided. He begins to wonder
if, perhaps, there is some other, more salient detail of the photo
that he is missing. What is it he is meant to be looking for? Perhaps
the mesh equipment is not the item of greatest importance. He scans
the paper again but notices nothing new.

The other children have all been issued this same sheet of paper. Most
of them are dumbfounded. Discarding their worksheets, the children
proceed to enact a miniature, organized conflict. They count off into
strike teams, execute insurgencies, repel counter-insurgencies, invade
and defend arbitrarily defined territories within the room's finite
perimeter. It is clear to Plinth that they have all but forgotten the
problem on the worksheet. Had the exercise confounded them all the
same way? Each of the boys, including Plinth himself, have only just
turned sixteen. So, some unfamiliarity with printed matter is to be
expected. But still, Plinth wonders, What are these boys seeing when
they look at the photographs? Indeed, what am I missing?

At the one hour marker the children are led back into the waiting
room. Further instructions are not provided.

The children begin to bicker. It is apparent now that the waiting room
has been stripped of standard entertainments. Plinth waits until two
quarrelers obscure the main surveillance camera (thinly disguised as
an inoperable telescreen) and ducks quickly behind the couch. Seconds
later, he pops back up and feigns participation in the complaining. A
noticeable bulge now deforms the left-front pocket of his trousers.
Upon close observation his sudden sociability is less than convincing.

The boys are led out of the waiting room and into a play area,
well-stocked with childish trifles. Plinth notes that these trinkets
are of the exact type the boys had been clamoring for, only moments
before. Carefully, he retreats into a corner, near an air vent, and
divests his pocket of the purloined contraband. The cool, manufactured
air of the building's circulation system envelopes his hands and face
as he crouches above the illicit cargo, squinting at the various
inscriptions etched into the reverse-side of each item.

Between the legs of a chair, Plinth spies two pairs of wingtip shoes.

The furniture is immediately lifted up, completely off of the ground.
Large hands likewise lift Plinth out of the corner, but not before he
manages to gather up his collection of stolen materials. He is
deposited onto a table top, where two uniformed men inspect him
thoroughly. Their commentary adopts the distinct air of suspicious,
yet enthusiastic interest.

The doctor with the big hands is the first to address him directly.

"One of your pockets looks rather larger than the other one, Plinth."

"Yes," the second man joins in,"The way they're making trousers these
days, it's a wonder you can even maintain your balance when you try to
walk."

Plinth:"Born this way, actually. My gait is lopsided."

"More likely, his pants are sagging from the weight of several power
cells taken from a mesh transceiver," the smaller doctor remarks to
his colleague.

"For my leaf," Plinth offers, halfheartedly.

"You can read?" both of them say in unison. Now they take turns
shaking their heads, greatly amused for some reason.

"Duh, jackasses," Plinth says, rolling his eyes."I'm not a little
kid."

Plinth is once again removed from the waiting room.

Presently, Plinth is being lectured, prepared for his circumcision.
Before he can be cut, he must first be made to understand.

The origin of the procedure is by now lost to history. For his part,
Plinth knows enough about the rite of manhood to suspect what comes
next. He has also finally deduced the purpose of today's exercise in
the waiting room; he is astonished at the transparent nature of the
deception. Even more astonishing is the fact that he fell for the ruse
on the first try. Doubtless, Grandma was somehow involved.

As it happens, he is the only child to have qualified for circumcision
today. At sixteen years of age, most males have yet to develop the
abstract thinking skills required to perform such feats as, say,
comprehending the relationship between his environment and the funny
squiggles and marks that constitute a topographical map. By revealing
that he knows how to read, Plinth has demonstrated that not only does
he grasp the basic concepts of symbolic representation, but that he
may also comprehend more abstract relationships which may or may not
yield a 1:1 correspondence to empirical reality. This is quite unusual
for someone so young. According to the more experienced doctors, there
is a precedent for the situation: Plinth will simply be allowed to
skip ahead to a higher grade level.

Naturally, Plinth is concerned about the costs this may incur.

"How can I convince them that my brain is damaged," he thinks to
himself.

He shoves his hand into his trousers and squeezes out a length of
fecal matter. Without hesitation, he chews the curl of feces
vigorously into his mouth. Swallows.

Much to his dismay, the gambit is unsuccessful.

The Mold awareness slowly seeps back into Plinth's consciousness. At
first he is beside himself; these men have just mutilated his stick.
Then he recalls the purpose of the ritual. Presently, he recalls his
past life as Haus Mold. He knows now what he must do next.

Plinth waves the doctors aside and inspects his personal effects,
ensuring that everything remains as he left it, nearly two decades in
his past. Satisfied, he withdraws a small electronic device and
activates its primary function, instantly transmuting all organic life
in the room into dust.

Deactivating the device and donning his eye-patch, Plinth hops off of
the examination table and begins to search for an exit.

There is much work to be done.

IT'S ALL POLITICS

tags: 1965, plinth_mold, potus, tab1, the_chief

"What do you mean he'runs plastics?'" the Chief snarled,
incredulously.

"Just that. There's no record of him after 1928, and then all of a
sudden this falls into my lap. Somehow, he's taken control of half the
toy manufacturing in America."

Thomas Bright, Sr. adjusted his cap.

"And you're sure it's the same guy?" asked the Chief.

"Proof's in the paperwork. Same investment patterns."

"But technically it's a different name."

"They're all Molds though, aren't they."

"True that."

Plinth Mold settled into his recliner, his reading glasses perched on
the end of his nose. Not much in the paper.

Maude. Oh, Maude.

Of course, this wasn't really his Maude. Generations had passed. Their
children had spawned children of their own. This girl... Was probably
his great great granddaughter.

No matter, the Molds had always kept it in the family.

Plinth Mold hadn't made love since 1888.

He lit his pipe.

Thomas Bright, Jr. played with his toys. Frequently, he would inspect
the intellectual property information inscribed upon the buttocks of
his action figures. He had noticed early on that all of his toys
seemed to be manufactured by the same company.

He figured his dad had purchased them in bulk. The cheap bastard.

Thomas threw back the flap of his tepee and climbed out. The cold air
burned his lungs, going down. He fumbled in his pocket for a
cigarette.

"Violet!" he yelled, carelessly."When's dad coming home?"

"Never!" Violet called back.

Thomas flicked his cigarette into the open flap of Violet's tent and
wandered off towards the creek, where he could urinate in peace.

An alarm sounded on the Chief's desk. He scanned the incoming message
and reacted instantaneously, barking commands into his commlink even
before he had fully depressed the trigger.

"Dispatching a cappella teams to the scene," he shouted into the
aether.

Thomas Bright, Sr. stared out of the big the window while the Chief
worked. He knew that their discussion had ended, for the time being,
on account of the incoming message. Still, the situation with the
Molds would have to be addressed, sooner or later.

"I'm sorry, Tom, we're going to have to postpone this until tomorrow
morning. The President seems to think that current developments within
Project: BLUEBIRD should take precedence over our investigation into
the Mold situation."

Thomas smiled on the inside. The Chief's sarcasm in the face of
absolute authority delighted his sense of rebellious individuality.
Naturally, he would never reveal such degeneracy to his superior.

"I understand, sir. It's all politics."

The Chief listened to his earpiece for a moment and then glanced over
at Thomas and mimed jerking off with his hand.

Thomas nodded and showed himself out of the room.

TRADE

tags: 1960, margaret, tab1, tab2, the_chief

The men in the street shifted uncomfortably as Thomas threaded between
them, calling out user IDs and lot numbers as he went. Many were
unaccustomed to such face-to-face business dealings, and they bristled
at the close contact.

In point of fact, the vocal identification and interplay wasn't
strictly necessary­the visor was picking out each recipient quite
efficiently, on its own­but Thomas liked to talk to people. As he made
eye contact with each man, he pushed a box into their hands and made a
point of thanking them for their patronage. Thomas believed that the
human touch created a connection between himself and his clients. For
their part, the men in the street were mostly irritated by his
forthright manner. They would not have left their apartments in the
first place if home delivery had been within their means.

Indeed, the men stood crammed into an ever lengthening line along one
side of the street. Most had squatted down on the curb to inspect
their bid tickets, or in some cases, their parcels. Each figure was a
solemn portrait in charcoal, crouched in wool jacket and trousers,
gazing fixedly over his clutch of papers. Every so often, the gritting
of teeth could be heard above the din as someone discovered that he
would not be the next to take delivery of his winnings. For most in
the line, this day's auction had been a final, go-for-broke grasp at
obtaining a user account on the old pressure screen grid. Securing an
account meant the guarantee of employment. Recently, a blanket freeze
had been declared. No more new accounts would be created before the
end of the year. This unexpected policy was instituted uniformly
across all nodes, effective immediately.

Thomas ignored his visor's display and ran the figures in his head as
he negotiated the sorry gallery of drooping faces. At two hundred
thousand dollars per, his deliveries were netting an even million on a
good day. This was not to mention the substantial commissions he would
claim from brokering his customers' login applications. In this way,
he netted rather a lot of money in rather a short period of time. Each
infusion of cash compounded with his previous earnings, snowballing
out of all rational control. It occurred to him at times that a like
substance tended to flow from itself; the small investment that had
gotten him started (thank you, Father), wed to the ingenuity he
employed at multiplying its volume, spread, fractal as the branches of
a tree into an incomprehensibly vast canopy of zeroes. Even so, he
recalled that it had been his own insight, quite apart from the fact
of his tools, that had proven instrumental in setting the whole
process in motion. From one seed, eternity. But the poetry of
abiogenesis was a myth. The flow could not proceed from a rock. The
rock must first be cracked in two.

Thomas considered the sorry status of his customers. Was the
competence of others truly so discouraging, such a disheartening
exhibition as to obliterate one's own will to succeed? Or were these
men simply too lazy to break open their respective rocks?

Thomas could see no profit in answering the question.

Thomas drifted towards a random squatter and tossed a five thousand
dollar chip into his can. He corrected himself at once, retrieving the
chip to wipe its memory. After a few seconds erasing, Thomas tossed it
back into the squatter's lap. The unfortunate man, who had obviously
not won any auctions that day, did not look up from his leather-bound
copy of DIANETICS.

Comfort yourself as you're able, Thomas thought to himself.

Sensing his presence, the book spun up its standard solicitation.

"I just took a shit the size of a baby's arm," it read aloud.

Disabused of his altruism, Thomas returned to his work.

By now, then, the men to Thomas' left had all taken on a greenish
pallor. This indicated that their parcels had already been delivered.
Thomas wheeled his cart around and headed in the opposite direction.
The men on the other end of the street were still tinted red. One by
one, they melted to light green as he placed a package into each of
their hands. Occasionally, Thomas would produce a handkerchief from
his pocket and wipe the fog away from the inside of his visor.

The weather crawl indicated that the ambient temperature of the
alleyway had reached 95 degrees Fahrenheit. Uncomfortable, to be sure,
but not yet a cause for alarm.

Once the sidewalk had melted into a carpet of soft green, Thomas
locked down his cart and pedaled away on his bike. Almost immediately
he was flagged by a bright orange man who had lately begun to sputter
and spurt various curses from his seat on the curb. Amused but mindful
of the orange glow, Thomas put down the kickstand on his bike and
removed his gloves.

The man on the curb explained to Thomas that his delivery had arrived
in unsatisfactory condition. While the outer surfaces of the parcel
appeared to be intact, upon opening the box the man had found nothing
but charred, broken fragments and a handful of dust. (This, Thomas
surmised, derived from the explosion of the device's power source
whilst in transit.) A scent reminiscent of mashed potatoes wafted
itself into Thomas' nostrils.

The man had worked himself into an unfriendly humor. He demanded an
immediate replacement for the item, and/or the immediate refund of the
full bid amount into his account. As Thomas looked on, the man
proceeded to type a complaint into his leaf, which shortly caused his
tint to shift from orange to bright yellow. Simultaneously, a soft
tone chimed in Thomas' ear.

Thomas considered the situation. When the customer had submitted his
complaint, a hold would have been placed upon Thomas' account for a
corresponding price of the item (minus auction fees, etc.), pending
the satisfactory resolution of the buyer dispute. The onus had now
shifted to Thomas to provide a valid serial number and delivery
confirmation for the replacement item, or to agree to a full refund.
He immediately recognized that, due to the hold placed upon his
account, his balance was no longer sufficient to secure a replacement
item. Much less pay for overnight shipping. A refund, of course, would
be out of the question, by dint of the clearly stated terms of his
boilerplate delivery contract.

Thomas judged the dispute irreconcilable. All for the sake of a used
piece of collectible pregnancy armor. The absurdity of the conundrum
put him in mind of paper currency. He mulled over suggesting a
historical working. Small, rectangular pieces of paper could be
collected into an animal leather pouch, then transmitted
surreptitiously via occult arm/hand gestures. Traditionally, the
procedure had been known put a disgruntled customer's mind at ease.
But the notion was laughable. Juvenile. A valid debt could not be
satisfied with trinkets and scraps of paper. He wiped the condensation
from his visor and likewise sharpened his mental focus. Time to get
serious.

Thomas examined his surroundings in the alley. He glanced from side to
side, then moved his eyes onto his chronometer and noticed that a
considerable amount of time had elapsed since he had pulled over his
bike to commiserate with his complaining customer. The two men now
stood completely alone at the curb. The street had cleared of punters.

The unhappy customer's expression registered extreme dissatisfaction,
no doubt exacerbated by the evening's steadily steepening thermal
incline.

Thomas considered how difficult it would be to setup a new delivery
account, to find another corner to service, to arrange the dispersal
of hundreds of thousands of dollars for yet another intermediary
service to accredit is account. He then resumed his customer's tightly
focused, accusatory stare. It was true the man could almost be said to
look pregnant. The customer continued to grimace from behind his
parcel's charred, blackened box flaps.

Maybe he had needed that armor for something more important than
simply completing a collection.

Without warning, Thomas suddenly snatched the ruined box from the
man's hands and hurled it to the ground. He punched the man in the jaw
and then mounted his bike, adjusted his visor for night vision, and
pedaled away at top speed. As he had feared, the ambient temperature
was rapidly approaching dangerous levels.

Thomas realized, after he had pedaled some distance down the road,
that he had dropped his login chit.

The man on the curb wobbled uncertainly. He touched his hand to his
face several times, confirming the integrity of his jaw line. He then
stooped to retrieve Thomas' chit.

Thomas observed his customer's activity from a safe distance. He felt
some disappointment at the loss of his credentials, but he was glad to
see that his customer had survived the transaction. In any case, his
account was irretrievably lost. He would have to register all over
again in the new year.

Thomas leaned into a tight, right turn and accelerated rapidly towards
home.

On balance, he concluded that he could afford to laugh. His customer
was in for a surprise, if ever he attempted to join the ranks of
freelance sellers. In today's economy, selling was not nearly as easy
as buying. Honest work had proven to yield diminishing returns.

Thomas recognized in himself the stirrings of a terminal pessimism.

He considered returning to school. Exchanging one set of circumstances
for another of equal or lesser value.

But he could not admit defeat. Not at twelve years of age.

He had to make a go of this.

Thomas calculated the remainder of his savings and selected a blank
sheet of paper from his binder.

NEW SENTENCES

tags: 1982, 1986, tab1, tab2, the_chief

	Eyes burnt out.  Almost awake.  Vanishing act.  Breathing
	late.  Ringing sound.  Mild discomfort.  Feels like I'm
	wearing a restroom napkin.  Tuning three stations at once in
	my left ear.  The other is numb.  Everything is back and
	forth.  Fluorescents blink and convince me otherwise.  Smooth,
	cold and dusty in places.  Smell is shrink wrap with rubbing
	alcohol, but worse.  Now questions.  Tight grip turns to
	shaking.  White noise.  Corner of a desk in my eye, hard, but
	it just feels like it.  Smudged ghosts huddling to warm up.
	Plastic bindings.  Spittle smears my cheek.  Sound of pliers
	and car keys.  Something warmer than dish water.  Cut with a
	razor.  Tied.  Comforting, now.  Soft cotton blankets.
	Lukewarm relax.  Taking off the restroom napkins.  Softer
	sheets beneath me.  Dermal abrasion.  Folded towel on my
	forehead.  More tying.  A small pricking.  Indistinct
	murmuring in my ear and then more shouting.  I'm drifting.
	Quieter voices.  Mother is not holding me.


"Sounds like the diary of a heroin addict," said the Chief.

I laughed.

"Surprising lucidity. My boy is a born writer. I doubt I'd be coherent
enough to recount the experience."

"Yeah, I've tried to read your reports."

We had needed a willing guinea pig.

The lawyers wouldn't even consider writing up our memo unless one of
us was willing to undergo the procedure, to prove it was safe.

I suggested we get new lawyers. That got some laughs.

Then I suggested Tommy.

"But will he do it?" the Chief had asked.

"You'd better believe it," I assured him.

Of course, it wasn't quite so simple. I hadn't even spoken to the boy
in a number of years. He never seemed to be available when I called.
In the end we had had to extract him from his place of employment.
Forcibly.

He just wouldn't cooperate. Even after my men identified themselves as
Federal agents. Which they never, ever do. (I had given them some
leeway to bend the rules. After all, this was my son we were talking
about.)

We got him out of there. And still he would not submit.

I was exasperated.

I authorized additional force just because he had made me so damned
angry.

Possibly, I should have told him it was me. But that would have
tainted the experiment. The results would have been declared invalid.
The whole operation would have been worse than useless.

I had had to proceed under a cloak of anonymity.

I hadn't anticipated that he would figure it out so quickly.

After he was released, I received an e-mail from him. Short, but it
was him. Seems he regretted having gone through the experience. Asked
me not to contact him again. Ever. It wasn't signed (in fact, it
arrived as a message sent from my own account). But I know for a fact
it was him.

Shouldn't have been such a big deal.

He had been through the training. He was qualified. Obligated, even.

But of course, he had had a complaint.

He always was a complainer.

1986.

Woke up this morning. Got a call from Piro. What's he doing back in
the country?

I was going to say I should let Tommy know, but then I remembered,
he's still upset with me.

I'll give him a few more years.

He'll cool off, eventually.

PERIOD DRAMA

tags: 1985, b_errol_royale, chuck_fraud, the_director

Chuck Fraud loaded his pen.

He cruised in through the front doors and attached himself to a cart.
Walked it down an isle and held out his arm, sending a row of boxes
tumbling into his basket.

At the register he pulled out his pen and started to write a check.

"What are you, Abraham Lincoln?" the cashier said,"You can't write a
check here."

"What, my money's not good enough for you?"

"No, sir, it's not. In fact, where did you find an ink pen, anyway?"

Chuck Fraud was taken aback by this. How audacious. And no regard for
history.

"Son­"

"Cut!" cried the Director."I still don't feel good about this scene.
Some of the details just don't read as authentic. And I don't like
this conveyor belt. I don't remember electronics stores looking like
this."

He looked down and then spoke into his Arrow shirtsleeve.

"Get me the Expert. The Expert! Now."

After a few minutes the actors were already getting restless and so he
waved them off, free to shoot dice or fuck under the craft services
table or whatever it was actors did when not being directed by a
director. People continued to swarm around him, but still the Expert
was not present.

The Director consulted his shirtsleeve again and then peered into his
lap at his leaf. He'd research this himself. He tapped two distinct
regions in sequence and then furrowed his brow as his eyes strained to
follow the changes.

Chuck Fraud loaded his pen.

He cruised in through the front doors and attached himself to a cart.
Walked it down an isle and held out his arm, sending a row of boxes
tumbling into his basket.

Pushed the basket up to the register. Starting filling out a check.

"I'll need to see your identoplate," the cashier interrupted.

"What kind of scam is this?" asked Chuck Fraud.

"Sir, you can't pay with paper­"

"Cut!" screamed the Director, finally making himself hoarse.

This time, the Expert was on hand.

"This sequence just isn't working. I'm sort of re-writing it blind
here; I don't know if the original screenplay was pecked out at random
by amphetamine-soaked apes or if this was something originally
intended for telescreen. Either way, it's shit. This retail
environment is in no way authentic. The transaction particulars are
also inaccurate. If I remember this stuff, you know the viewers are
going to remember it. We've got to do something about it."

"I'll see what I can come up with," confirmed the Expert, before
darting between some interns and vacating the sound stage.

Errol Royale fingered a business card from the top of his deck. It
read:"B. Errol Royale, Recruiter." His eyes massaged the dense
ultracrowd. As he surveyed the area, an erection began to deform the
contour of his trousers.

Royale flashed on one Chuck P. Fraud and made a bee-line for him,
parting the sea of aimless consumers by waving his business card in
front of his face like a butterfly knife. Fraud responded, naturally
enough, by shifting his weight and attacking Royale's midsection,
using the point formed by his knuckles to radiate a signal of pain
throughout the taller man's ribcage­

"Cut," breathed the Director.

He paused to draw in more air before continuing.

"I think I'm going to give up on this scene. I no longer care how
Fraud gets into the military. We just have to make it believable when
he starts picking off Congressmen. Let's move on to the next page."

THE MOLDS

tags: 1975, jonathan, plinth_mold, reginald

The man from downstairs would appear every evening at 7:00 p.m., ready
to collect the wax sculpts. He would take them down to the
manufacturing floor where they would be cast as first shot test molds,
and be then put through several short production runs. Gently, the man
would scoop up each figure and place it onto his tray. He would then
push his cart along to the next desk. This cycle iterated, every
evening of every season, without fail. By autumn, the company's lead
design team would complete a fresh collection of figurines.

Jonathan's team had never failed the company.

Motioning to the man with the cart, then towards an array of already
assembled parts that were spread out on the table before him, Jonathan
presented the work that had most recently occupied his attention. The
wheels of the man's cart emitted a cantankerous noise and shortly
began to roll again, this time in the direction of Jonathan's work
area.

From out of nowhere, Plinth Mold tramped into the room. He shook the
dust from his boots, shouldered past the man with the cart, and locked
his one good eye, somehow simultaneously, onto both men at once.
Plinth held onto this intimate, personal contact for as long as he
possibly could before proceeding to the next phase of the interaction.

Jonathan batted a curtain of dirty hair from his face and began to
scratch his yellow beard. There was no use trying to stop the boss
now.

Plinth removed his eye patch, revealing the smooth, concave surface
where an eye socket should have been situated, had Plinth been born of
a mere human woman. Squinting, he proceeded to inspect Jonathan's most
recent achievements. The first sculpt seemed to captivate, singularly,
and he hoisted it up into the light, the better to examine its
particulars. His weight shifted forward and his mouth produced a
vaguely appreciative grunt. His one good eye rapidly alternated its
focus for several seconds, comparing his favorite figure to the other
wax artworks arranged haphazardly across Jonathan's table. It was
clear from these physical perturbations that, in Plinth's opinion,
none of the other figures measured up to the one he held clenched in
his leather-gloved hand.

Suddenly sweeping away his velvet knapsack, Plinth winked at Jonathan
and pulled the drawstring closed.

"Our style of working will seem less threatening, in retrospect," he
remarked.

"Who's threatened?" Jonathan tended to humor the aging businessman his
eccentricities, but he sensed that he was being mocked.

Plinth (indicating the sculpt that had captured his interest):"I shall
require more figures in this vein. Yes. Similar, I think, if not
identical, to this one."

Jonathan:"But I've completed a whole series of designs. Here, just
take a look at these other models­"

"I will require only the Asiatics," insisted Plinth, expertly
maneuvering past Jonathan's pointlessly extended hand.

"You aim to pick and choose between the Lord's handiwork?" demanded
Jonathan, a surprising wave of anger suddenly breaching the surface of
his pink face.

"A man must content himself with the time that he has been allotted,"
quoted Plinth,"...and so divide his attentions accordingly."

Plinth paused, waiting for Jonathan's mind to catch up with his ears.

"It should also be pointed out that you have come perilously close to
conflating yourself with the Lord our God. A most unusual lapse, for a
young man of your background."

This led to silence. Plinth knew quite well which switches he was
throwing within the young lad's mind.

Jonathan considered himself to be the reincarnation of a famous Green
religious leader, highly revered by the people of his home country.
This quirk had been jealously concealed by Jonathan's family, as wide
dissemination of his delusions was likely to result in ridicule, or,
even worse, excommunication from the country's dominant religious
order. Since no one believed his claims, there could be no defense.

As time continued to elapse, Plinth wondered if perhaps he had flipped
Jonathan's switches with an excess of vigor.

Eventually, the young man let out his breath. Plinth winced visibly as
Jonathan opened his mouth and slowly began to speak.

"I suppose you are better qualified to discern the relative, mundane
qualities of my work than I can ever hope to be," Jonathan said
easily, his ears slowly fading from red to pink."I do not begrudge you
your preferences. They are the very basis of our relationship, after
all. Please, take what you will."

With this, Plinth relaxed and settled back into his shoes. He could
see now that Jonathan had regained conscious control of his limbs, and
so, in this more equanimous humor, would not attempt to strike him
with any of the tools laid out on his workbench. Plinth hastened to
remind himself that there was never a guaranteed outcome when one
ventured to upset the Divine equilibrium of the religiously inclined.
He was only glad that he had not come to terminate the boy's
employment.

Behind Plinth's back, situated at the base of a far wall, a half-sized
door rose up from the floor. Presently, it opened, and a half-sized
man crossed over its threshold into the open air of Jonathan's
workshop. Plinth had not come equipped to deal with multiple
assailants, and so he spun around quite awkwardly to confront this
lately arriving interloper.

Somewhat unexpectedly, Plinth's plastic cloak had gathered itself
around his ankles, on the floor, and he nearly tripped over it as he
assumed the appropriate defensive posture.

The man in the closet had declined to join Plinth and Jonathan in the
lounge. He claimed not to have been aware of Plinth's arrival in the
workshop, which seemed ordinary enough on its face, but no sane man
(in Plinth's estimation) refused a free drink and a chance to gnaw the
ear of his employer. He would know the reason behind this man's
stubborn abstinence. He demanded that the fellow explain himself, and
fixed his posture to wait for an answer. The half-sized man had
prepared no rebuttal, and so finally he agreed to break from his
chores, to drink with his employer, to act like a human being. In
spite of this surrender, Plinth observed that a measure of wariness
still showed plainly on his face.

"I have busied myself in that closet, without emerging, for a handful
of months, and would continue in my toil without complaint if you
could but leave me alone to get on with my work," lamented the
half-sized man.

"Is it comfortable in that closet?" Plinth asked. His genuine
curiosity was evident to all who were present at the table.

"I have to admit that it's not. But my closet is still serviced by the
building's pneumatic tube system, through which I am able to procure
my materials."

"May I ask then why it is you are willing to tolerate such working
conditions?"

Plinth knew that he was traversing the boundaries of etiquette. Had he
opened himself to recriminations? The half-sized man matched his tone.

"Oh, and I suppose you find every aspect of your job to be ideal? I
work from the time I wake up, straight through to the time when I fall
asleep. What could be the purpose of maintaining separate quarters?
There's nothing about where I sleep in my orders."

"I don't mean to rhyme..." he added.

Jonathan was again fumbling with the bristles of his beard, eyes
focused upon some distant apocalypse. Reginald (for that, Plinth had
learned, was the half-sized man's name) had performed the series of
keypad exertions necessary to extend his rolling platform to roughly
chair height, and so he began the process of conveying his legless
body into the booth alongside his companions. For his part, Plinth was
generous enough not to remark upon Reginald's ornate personal mobility
carrier. Though gape at it he did.

"What?" demanded Reginald.

"I take it you are the man who operates the molds," whispered Plinth,
eyes fairly glazing over as he avoided focusing on Reginald's...
stroller.

"The man who designed them. Now operates them. No one else seems to be
able to get the hang of the interface."

Here Jonathan interjected, reciting the well-worn narrative."The
backups of Reginald's original designs for the molds were lost in a
catastrophic fire that cleaned out the department's central data
center back in'71."

"The company opted to rescue what was left of my code instead of what
was left of my legs. And how did that work out for them?"

"Reginald was caught in the fire," Jonathan explained.

"Falling machinery bisected me. Cut me into hemispheres. With the loss
of my templates, I've no way of growing a new interface. None of the
department's people have ever been able to figure out how to run the
things without me."

"But we get by," Jonathan insisted, realizing that Reginald was making
him sound useless.

"Yes, recognizing that losing me meant throwing off their budget, the
department chipped in on this mobility rig, and built a special room
for me here so that I might be close enough to the molds to lend my
expertise when complex adjustments were required. Eventually, I just
made the space over into an office. The molds are too expensive to
replace, so this is the state of affairs until we discover how to map
the controls onto other users' minds."

"I had no idea," said Plinth, now sincerely embarrassed.

Reginald inclined his head toward Jonathan and took another sip of his
water.

"I tell the kid here it's all God's fault."

I'LL MANAGE

tags: 1976, maude_mold, plinth_mold

So he was unhappy, again. But when he halted to appraise the situation
rationally, he found that nothing had really changed. Why, then, this
morose disposition?

Each season, Plinth Mold selected the action figures that would
comprise the next year's line. He did this alone­that is, his decision
was final­because Plinth Mold knew that to consult a committee would
signal weakness to the trade press. Such fanfare had been made of his
spectacular rise, his subsequent reign and famously charismatic
management style, that he was wary of reversing the polarity of this
momentum, reluctant to sour himself in the public eye by demonstrating
an acute lack of direction. He knew well that each word of praise
committed in print represented an investment expected to yield
generous dividends; that the looming weight of his success was not
itself immune to the fearful and awesome properties of general
relativity. In point of fact, there was a sort of balance to the
world, and he was loathe to tip it off-kilter.

The problem was, finally, that these latest designs were not going to
work. That is to say, Plinth could not decide between them. In years
gone by such an impasse would have met with the unhesitant scrapping
of the entire line­Plinth would fire the responsible team and start
over from scratch. But it was far too late for that, this year. He
would have to make a choice from amongst what had already been placed
in front of him. He knew it was imperative to come to a decision, but
still he was unsure of his direction.

Yes, so something of some significance had actually changed. He cycled
between each layout and reprimanded himself sternly for his
indecision. Why was he making this so difficult? As he stared at each
proposal, he could not determine to his satisfaction which was
superior. They all seemed to consist of roughly the same elements.
Each seemed equal in merit to the next.

"There is urine all over the front of this toilet," complained Maude
Mold, Plinth's wife of some twenty-five years."Sometimes I sit down
and my pant leg touches it­I can feel it."

Plinth looked up from his leaf."I guess I'll need to clean that up."

"That'd be a good idea, so I don't fucking retch."

Previous flirtations with indecision had cost Plinth an entire
season's work. He had ended up pushing a wave of repaints into the
stores for Redaction Day. No truly new figures for over six months.
Mention of that debacle was now off-limits in staff meetings, but the
dark period lingered in his memory. Fatigued, he thought to himself
that bouncing back from abject failure was a young man's game.

To All Employees: Our Guiding Principles form the basis for how we
should manage our day-to-day interactions with customers and each
other. They are the unchanging foundation that supports how we conduct
ourselves everyday. Along with our Business Plan objectives and
Factors for Dominance, the Guiding Principles form the building blocks
to ensure the Figures Department and ultimately UNIVERSAL MOLD's
success. Click here to view the presentation of the month that
discusses the importance of"Hold Yourself and Others Accountable." Act
with Honesty and Integrity at All Times
Exhibit a Positive Attitude
Treat Everyone with Courtesy and Respect
Do What You Say You are Going to Do
Seek First to Understand Then Be Understood
Communicate Clearly and Often
Inspect What You Expect
Execute Flawlessly Everyday
Recognize and Encourage Continuously
Hold Yourself and Others Accountable Thank you, Plinth Mold
President, UNIVERSAL MOLD

"I can't believe I just wrote that," thought Plinth Mold."I wonder how
I would respond to a message like this, were I to receive it from my
own employer." But of course, Plinth Mold did not have an employer.
Had not, in fact, for some time. (Maude, it was true, was only his
wife.) He tapped the appropriate region on his leaf's screen, causing
his message to be sent. He hated these condescending dispatches, but
this one had been necessary, something about gradated impacts that had
bubbled up from Force Management, and if that were the case, it might
as well bear his own signature instead of one belonging to some
irrelevant middle manager. He sought solace through embracing the
inherent nobility of his judgment, but, curiously, accepting his
responsibility failed to improve his sagging mood. He still felt
blank­or worse, confused.

"When you sit there with your pen, scratching away, it almost appears
as if you have friends," allowed Maude."Your movements, these gestures
toward what appears to be the composition of some sort of communique,
are so realistic."

Plinth sighed, folded up his leaf and turned off the lamp on his
nightstand. He removed his eye patch and laid it on the table next to
his face, then ran his fingers over the concave surface where his
eyeball should have been. His toes were freezing, but Maude would not
countenance another blanket or any adjustment to the environmental
controls. Perhaps he could show her the figure designs, see if she
could muster a preference for one in particular. Immediately, he
wondered what that would cost him in the event of an acrimonious
separation, and so he closed his mouth. He'd better just do it
himself. Like so much else.

"It's an expensive illusion, created just for you."

There was silence, then, but he knew that he had said too much.

SHIFT!

tags: 1981, chricton, eva, plinth_mold, tab2

11SEPT1981

UNIVERSAL MOLD, NYC OFFICE

Plinth Mold scrolled through the morning news and shook his head.

"They make up some lie and then they get mad at you when you see
through it. Because in their mind they think they've crafted the
perfect deception, which should appeal to your (perceived) faults."

"That's pretty fucking ridiculous. Clearly they are to blame for their
own inability to con you."

"Yeah."

"By the way, do you want to come in early today?"

"I'm already here, sir."

Plinth looked up from his leaf and saw that Thomas was indeed standing
in the doorway to his office.

"Oh. So I'm not talking to you on the phone."

"No, sir."

"You sound like you're on the phone."

"I'm not, sir."

"You're sure."

"Yes, sir."

"Nano-toxins. That eat sperm. Selective genocide."

"History is spamming weird."

"Yeah, I read about it the other day. Something they unleashed during
World War II. Hell of a way to get your pipes cleaned."

"Barbaric. And yet... Hmm. Piques the curiosity."

"I'll say. I wonder if it hurts."

"See if you can finish up these inks before Chricton comes back from
lunch."

"Will do."

Thomas moved his fingers inside the box. Ink lines began to appear
over the blue wireframe on his screen. Once finished, he would export
the flat image to paper. For some reason, Plinth Mold still preferred
a 2-D mock-up for his action figures. Thomas found the whole get-up
awkward, but for a paycheck he was willing to oblige.

"I know this is not what we set out to do with ourselves," Thomas said
to himself as he continued to trace the lines on his screen."We've
allowed a number of years to slip by, and yet, no clear progress
towards our goals is apparent."

Just as Thomas was getting into the rhythm of self-deprecation,
Chricton returned, bursting through the door with two brown paper bags
full of groceries.

"That was quick."

"Yes. I ran into Eva in the corridor. Relieved her of these. Here,
let's snack while we work."

"Thoughtful of you."

"Yeah, I don't think she was going to do anything important with all
this stuff anyway. She was covered in some kind of white powder. Just
stood there while I took her groceries away from her. Distant look in
her eyes."

Thomas leaned his head down on his drawing surface and pretended to
snort a line of cocaine.

Both men laughed heartily.

Plinth was flossing with a piece of o-ring from one of the prototype
figures.

"Boss, that's gross."

"Hey, all this junk is mine anyway. Keep your eyes on your own paper."

"You know, I've often wondered how to solve the problem of The Troll."

"What the fuck is a Troll, boss?"

"I'm glad you asked. A Troll is merely someone who enters into a
discussion with the intent of disrupting the equilibrium; usually by
misrepresenting his own or others' actual positions in favor of
inflammatory rhetoric, or by the constant interjection of non
sequiturs."

"I see. This has to do with one of your theological speculations,
doesn't it? Doesn't sound like a very friendly habit, anyway."

"No, the Troll isn't a very friendly sort at all. In fact, the
practice of Trolling is usually undertaken maliciously. Why, the
history of the Green is positively peppered with examples of
individuals who­"

"But boss, why would someone want to do something like that? Seems
counterproductive."

"That, Thomas, is the problem of the Troll."

Chricton looked up from his workbench."I think we should make a figure
of this Troll character." He swiveled his screen around and displayed
his design: a small creature with an obnoxious outgrowth of wispy
hair, mounted atop a pencil as if it were some kind of ornamental
eraser.

Plinth was visibly amused. He depressed a switch inside his coat
sleeve.

"Capital idea, Chricton! Our only obstacle will be securing a license
on the concept from the Green Consortium."

All of the men chuckled hesitantly before deliberately shifting the
discussion to other matters.

The Green Consortium never issued licenses.

Not to the likes of Plinth Mold.

THE SHIP

tags: 1993, piro, plinth_mold, tab2

I'm watching the waves do weird things, dancing around the stuck pixel
in my visor. It's making me a little nauseous.

Piotr's abovedecks with the boss, Plinth Mold. I really, really,
really didn't want him to come along on this outing, but Captain
Plinth insisted. I can't say no to him; literally. In spite of the
rumors of impending cutbacks, I need to hold onto this job for as long
as possible. There are debts to consider. And hey, it's his boat.

But truthfully, I hate Piotr. He's my best friend, sure, but things
are complicated. He makes me be the bottom. Plus, his hair is longer
than mine. These are only two of my reasons for hating him.

Staring out of my porthole is not working. I'm about to blow
groceries, so I've got to get out of my room. I don't want to ruin my
sheets.

I'm up top again, leaning over the railing. Piotr thinks this is all
pretty funny. Plinth, if he notices, ignores the subtle
best-friend-tension between Piotr and myself and has a laugh as well.
I'm peering into his face, trying to line up the dead pixel in my
visor with his one good eye. It centers me momentarily and I stop
vomiting long enough to strike up a conversation.

"Plinth, I need a raise."

"I just want you to know that my having to fire Piotr isn't going to
reflect badly on you."

I am transfixed. Somehow I keep from letting loose on Plinth's shoes.

"You know, because you recommended him to the company."

After a period of stasis the sky is vibrating normally again, and so
I'm back to leaning over the railing. If you need me, you'll know
where I'm at. Plinth keeps on talking.

"Let's not tell him until we cross the Equator, eh?"

Wiping my mouth. Pushing the words out."He's not really my brother,
you know."

Going back several years now, Piotr and I have been telling people
that we're brothers. Twin brothers, even. Somewhat surprisingly,
seeing as how we look nothing alike, no one has ever expressed the
slightest incredulity about our claim to blood kinship. I guess I have
to admit, I would be surprised if anyone at this company had paid that
close attention to anything that came out of our mouths. But this goes
beyond simple gullibility. Never, no matter how ludicrous a scenario
Piotr and I may have just tried to put over, has anyone, at any time,
ever, challenged one of our claims. Even when we have deliberately
crafted preposterous stories. Even when it's clear that we almost
certainly must be lying. I have no explanation for this incredible
fact. Though I do admit to taking advantage of the effect from time to
time. When it comes to untruths, Piro and I are multi-platinum
sellers. Too hype, straight dope, flavor milk, so to speak. It's
sickening.

Anyway, by now I am tired of the charade. Determined to break the
illusion, to drop real knowledge on our employer and our co-workers.
Piotr, my love; how I hate him.

"Boss, I have a confession. I've been lying to you, all these years."

"In your way. Of course I know that you are not a blood relation of
Piotr's. Though I doubt anyone else here at the company suspects. You
see, Piotr is my son."

I lean back over the edge, then straighten myself, then back over the
edge, ad nauseam. (Ha ha.) An inverted pendulum. The IV comes out of
my arm and then my premium grade Green is washing all over the deck.
It's a beautiful chaos.

"No way, boss."

"Oh, yes way, Thomas."

"That's ridiculous. That's disgusting. How could this happen."

It is a great storm that frightens the fish and blows up the skirt of
our boat. It causes a great deal of entertaining interference in my
visor. I'm tracing lines between the raindrops with my messed-up pixel
and again, it's making me quite ill. However, my stomach has almost
caught up with the unstable gravity of the ship, and I feel that if
only I can keep up with the raindrops, I may stave off vomiting
indefinitely. In the meantime, the IV has been replaced in my arm.

Plinth stands watch over the bridge.

I can feel Piotr entering the room even though he's exercising his
professional skills; he's so vain that he even wants to lie to me with
his movements.

I can't take it anymore.

"He's firing you, idiot."

"I love you, Thomas."

The ball is in play. I really do hate Piotr.

"Of course you love me. We're brothers, right?"

"He's not firing me. He's giving me the ship."

This is just too much. I have to throw up some more of my insides.

"You know he's my father, then," says Piotr.

"Oh, fuck you." I barely spit out the words before losing my lunch all
over the bed. Piotr looks sympathetic, but suddenly he gets a little
testy as he realizes I'm damaging his property.

"Hey, don't make a mess of my boat."

Aw, shut up.

This is not a problem.

This is no emergency.

I know how to calm him down.

PERCEPT DRIVE

tags: 1993, piro, plinth_mold, tab2

Plinth Mold sat and ate his Green Cashew cereal. The ship's percept
drive sent barely visible tremors across the surface of his milk.

"Do you ever get sad when you see a girl who is, like, all obsessed
with sports and stuff, and you realize that there's no way the two of
you could ever be compatible?"

Thomas had somehow gained entrance to Plinth's cabin. What about the
elaborate rhetoricalock system Piro had installed? Plinth had been
assured, specifically, that Thomas could not penetrate it. Ridiculous.

"You mean some girl you like?"

"Not necessarily. Just, you know, any girl. Just to see her. From a
distance, it's almost as if there is some sort of active force that
draws you towards her, even as it pushes her away."

"I can't say as I've ever suffered that sort of crisis, Thomas."

"Oh. Well, even though I'm gay, it still sucks. Strictly speaking."

The ship lurched sharply and Plinth figured Piro must be wrangling the
percept team to the other side of the deck, making a slight course
adjustment.

"Anyway, could you please shut up this incessant chattering? My Green
Cashews are getting soggy."

"All right, boss. I'll just head up top and see if anything else needs
doing."

Abovedecks, Piro was indeed herding members of the percept team from
one side of the ship to the other. Each man or woman planted
themselves into their new position and focused their attention
acutely, fixating upon a single point along the horizon that had been
marked pink in their visors. Slowly, the ship began to change
direction.

Piro propped a leg up on the railing."Forward; That way," he
commanded, gesturing in a specific direction for the benefit of the
percept team.

Their gaze moved to his hand instead of to the distant point he had
meant to indicate.

That was not good for the ship.

THE SHIP, PT. 3

tags: 1993, albert_lunsford, chrystal_pepsi, piro,
plinth_mold, tab1, tab2, the_chief, wetbeard

It was Lunsford, all right. QCL Corp.

I really didn't need to verify.

I had spellchecked over three hundred individual songs, processing
each of them manually. One at a time because Lunsford refused to let
anyone use the automation. All of his interns were on leave for
various reasons. He'd popped out of his office a couple of hours ago
and handed me this improbable stack of leaves. One leaf per song! Then
disappeared just as quickly as he'd arrived. Meanwhile, at an access
junction to the abandoned floor, my own"interns" were spreading porn
onto the mesh like so much organic peanut butter onto a bland tasting
sandwich. The security exposure revealed by last night's scans would
heal itself by lunch time, possibly even before I could put Lunsford
in the freezer and be on my way. Potentially troubling, but as a
strictly practical measure I was confident of my chances. For various
reasons it paid to keep positive.

I cracked open a Gray Pop and chugged it back. Frothy, neutral-toned
agents coated my throat with perpendicular cells. It was refreshing,
and also damned delicious. Honestly, I should have been focusing on
losing the extra pounds I'd picked up while working on the this
assignment. Only a week to go before I'd be shipping out again. I'd
appear obese and would probably be mocked by my teammates. I glanced
down at my belly, hesitantly. All right, shit, I thought to myself,
I'll purge the perp cells before heading to bed. So much for the perks
of the job. I hated forcing myself to vomit.

Presently, I belched.

Which temporarily alleviated my sea sickness.

I squeezed my eyes shut and strained to hear my heartbeat. The sounds
of the machinery in the room ran my thoughts aground. Wave upon wave
of diverse electronic complaint, crashing together in a ubiquitous
aural foam. So loud that I couldn't feel the reassuring pulse of my
circulatory system clicking against my inner ear. I wondered: Am I
finally dead? Or am I being recalled to base? What is the meaning of
all this?

Then reason, and balance, resumed.

Meaning was irrelevant.

A new disturbance in my visor window. Some of the security from
upstairs was leaking onto the public layer. Wonder what the pajama
shits are? Text 667-SHITZ to find out!

Well. It was old-fashioned stuff but it would work. That is to say, if
my interns could keep their hands out of their pants long enough to
smear it into place properly. I crushed the empty Gray Pop can on my
forehead and tossed it into the trash bin. There was groundwork to be
laid before my part of the assignment could proceed. I scanned the
progress reports again and made sure that the numbers were leveling
according to plan. We were on schedule. Barely. A relief, but the boys
were only onto the B tab by now.

We were going to need more time.

It may have started as a reaction to the percept team's sudden loss of
attention. It may have been something else. What was positive was that
things were not going well for the team stationed upon the top deck of
the USS DOM DELUISE. Piro's prodigious organizational efforts
notwithstanding.

"You men, eyes on the horizon," directed Piro.

A waved sloshed over the deck, knocking a couple of the team off of
their feet. They immediately righted their gaze to stern.

"Not what I meant," said Piro.

"Water's getting choppy," hollered Thomas Bright, emerging from
belowdecks."You sure you don't need to get your folks strapped in?"

"We'll be fine." Piro reinstated his leg to the side of the railing
and propped himself against it with his elbow. Somehow, he maintained
the appearance of standing upright. He motioned towards the sun, which
was only just now slipping below the the horizon.

Thomas interjected again."It's no wonder they were having trouble,
staring into the sun like that. Probably ruining their eyesight."

"Worrying about that is my responsibility," said Piro, clearly
irritated that Thomas had raised the issue in front of his men.

"Hey, fuck- s'cuuuuuuse me. I'm here on behalf of the boss. He's
trying to mentate down there. Only, the ship's rocking back and forth
too much. Making him nauseous."

Piro's face didn't change."Understood."

Satisfied, Thomas returned belowdecks.

Piro kicked one of his men in the seat of his uniform."I said eyes on
the horizon."

We were in before Lunsford got back.

I sat down behind his desk and played around with his knickknacks.
Action figures, mostly. Even one of himself. Though it must be stated
that the depiction was idealized, anatomically enhanced almost beyond
recognition. There were some doodles carved into the arm of his chair,
apparently with a pocket knife. What a barbarian. Inside his desk I
found several unopened packages of Magnum prophylactics.

He burst through the doorway of his office just as I had one of the
Magnums out and stretched over the barrel of my gun. I suppose it
painted an odd picture for him. Well, shit, I thought, break time's
over.

My first shot punctured the digitally enhanced prophylactic. The rest
of the flexible, translucent material blew away as I carried forward
with renovations to Lunsford's frame. Pieces of the Magnum had ended
up all over the place, and I laughed when I saw that a small fragment
had become stuck to Lunsford's cheek. The debris and flesh dispersed
in their usual fractal pattern as I emptied the rest of my clip into
his face.

Mission accomplished, then.

By the time Lunsford had settled to the floor, my interns had caught
up with me. They proceeded to scoop up any and all items of interest.
I fished in Lunsford's pockets for a cigarette and came up with some
off-brand that must have cost even less than what I normally smoked. I
stripped off my necktie and tossed it onto Lunsford's lifeless chest,
chased it with a flick of ash, and then, with some effort, produced a
fair amount of Gray Pop spittle. A signature, of sorts. We gathered up
what we needed from his office and left the body for housekeeping.

Ring, ring.

"USS DOM DELUISE, your one-stop shop for Redaction Day savings," Lt.
Commander Wetbeard sighed into his mouthpiece.

"This is Plinth. I'm calling on an outside line because the intercom
in my stateroom is non-functional. I need you to contact Piro and send
him down here for me."

"I'll get right on top of that, boss," said Wetbeard, straightening
smartly in spite of the fact that no one could see him in his watch
seat.

A low-flying aircraft became momentarily visible to the percept team
and the ship rolled to starboard.

"Did you feel that?"

"Feel what, boss?"

"Nevermind."

"I'll send Piro down right away, sir. Anyway, it looks like he could
use a break."

"Tell him we'll have Thomas steer the team for him, while he's
belowdecks."

Lt. Commander Wetbeard stared at his phone. While his rank as Lt.
Commander was merely a job title, and not an actual rank in any known
naval organization, he was still conflicted over whether or not to
question the orders of Plinth Mold. It had been some time since
Wetbeard had needed to contemplate the ramifications of any of the
orders that were issued to him. His mind ran several possible
scenarios as he awaited the flash of resolute intent which would
signal that a suitable course of action had been selected.
Accordingly, the two conflicted halves of Lt. Commander Wetbeard
engaged in an extended negotiation, exchanging discreet packets of
information at last-century speeds. As if to unclog the apparent
bottleneck, Plinth Mold severed the uncomfortable silence by at last
continuing to speak.

"I'm sending him up now," Plinth said, and hung up.

And with that, Wetbeard's crisis was resolved.

In all, fifteen of my team were disqualified from active service based
upon their performance in the Lunsford simulation.

I began to seriously consider retirement. No, really this time. It
wasn't bad enough that I'd been busted down to mission
pre-visualizations; I had to be roundly insulted by the lackluster
passel of students assigned to me, as well. I fairly ached to commit
government-sanctioned violence against an entrenched detachment of
radical dissidents, or at least to fire a loaded weapon at a
stationary target in a taxpayer-funded firing range. My desires,
however, were irrelevant, owing to my present status at the Farm.
They'd even revoked my weapons certificates so that nothing in my
personal arsenal could be activated or equipped. For now, the weapons
would lay idle, stubbornly refusing to aid in the national defense.
Naturally, I was still responsible for their maintenance. It was a
textbook example of bureaucratic entanglement: an asset simultaneously
existing in two contradictory states, never collapsing, one way or the
other, into coherence. During the first six months of my demotion I
was convinced that soon I'd be slipped a deep-cover assignment which
would exploit my new status as a pseudo-civilian. It would hardly be
the first time I'd enjoyed such an arrangement. But no one ever
contacted me. No such assignment ever materialized.

Maybe I had missed a cue.

In truth, there was a given reason for my demotion. I won't go into
detail, but suffice to say that around 1991 it was suddenly considered
bad form to tally a large number of civilian casualties in the course
of a single mission. My superiors had cunningly rewritten the rule
book after I'd already been deployed to the field. Oh, there were
extenuating circumstances, to be sure, but, as with the review board
who oversaw my case, I'm sure you have better things to do with your
time than listen to me complain about how I was sabotaged by the petty
reprisals of middle-management. I'll just say that it was no
coincidence a former student of mine had become my new case officer
shortly before we shipped out, and that the offending mission was my
first under her command.

Chrystal Pepsi. An officer for whom I'd flatly refused to die.

It's conceivable that she may have sensed my lack of faith in her
abilities.

Taking a peek at the paperwork and gradually realizing the scenario I
was being slotted into, I was furious. It's unprofessional to admit
this, but I'm certain my feelings toward C. Pepsi affected my
performance during the mission. It's likely that she was cognizant of
my opinions even when she first floated my name to lead the team.
Hence, a typical sort of trap. Her bid to leapfrog my years of
experience by simply removing me from the game board. This was exactly
the kind of thing I had taught her to do to other people.

And, well, it had worked.

I missed the Chief. I missed my old life.

I was used to being a target, but that didn't mean I would just sit
around and do nothing about it, once I found out.

It was time to reactivate my guns.

THE CARRIER

tags: 1993, chipotle_pope_bags, gravely_cuss, pennis_mold,
piro, plinth_mold, tab2, wetbeard

"This logo is all wrong," complained Pennis Mold."You've got to
include the inverted commas, like this." Pennis made a few marks on
the leaf and held up his doctored version of the logo."Is that so
hard?"

"It just seems like a bunch of artsy-fartsy crap, to me," said
Chipotle."It's a stroke book. Why does it have to be high concept?"

Pennis waved the new logo around, gesturing with authority, which
finally triggered Chipoltle to relent.

"Okay, all right, I'll give it another pass."

Each day at the company was a repeat of this same pattern. Pennis
would issue instructions and then there would be friction. By the end
of his fifth year at MASSIVE FICTIONS, Pennis was all but ready to
hang it up. Then, more problems emerged. A general strike had been
called, partway into his latest project, which had resulted in Pennis'
line being reduced to a handful of stroke books and a live streaming
video site that was only accessible from within the Bohemian Grove.

The publishing business had proven more difficult than he had
anticipated.

And Pennis didn't even like stroke books.

Years ago.

"Pornstations on," chirped the instructor.

Gravely and Chipoltle slapped the sides of their pornstations,
whispering behind the buzzing of the blue lights. Their instructor
adjusted the smallpox heart on her cheek and immediately launched into
her morning monologue. At this, Chipoltle activated his stresspants.

A fact that did not pass unobserved by his classmates.

Back in the present.

"Sir, how long until dinner?"

"Help me with these potatoes," answered Pennis Mold.

The two men went to work, removing the polymer wrap from each of a
dozen red potatoes. Pennis was going to wing it. He hoped that Plinth
wouldn't notice he'd bought organic. And from outside the company, to
boot. Pennis decided then and there that Plinth would have to tough it
out. Human food was human food.

Many years ago.

The squad of boys made their way down the corridor. Rounding a corner,
a snatch of audio snagged their attention."Gravely Cuss, Chipotle Pope
Bags (Low Fat), Pennis Cialis Mold­report to the office at your
convenience."

"That means never," laughed Pennis Mold.

"I think I like the sound of that woman's voice," remarked Chipotle.

Present time, present day.

The deck of the carrier struggled to remain parallel with the horizon.
As Pennis stumbled onto deck, a group of homeless men pedaled out on
their bicycles, brandishing empty gas cans, demanding spare change so
that they might refuel their stranded automobiles. Seemingly oblivious
to the rolling of the ship's deck, the cyclists converged on Pennis'
position.

Pennis looked around and wondered where their automobiles could
possibly have broken down. For that matter, how could anyone be
homeless on an aircraft carrier?

"An aircraft carrier is supposed to have stabilizers," he explained to
the homeless men."Obviously, ours are not working very well. It's
probably dangerous for you to be riding out here, right now."

The cyclists eyed each other nervously. Slowly, apprehension hardened
into rage.

This guy was ignoring their pitch.

Pause to consider:

Pennis was the youngest of the three Mold brothers. To him­and to
their father­it seemed he could never quite measure up. This had made
Pennis' life much more difficult than he would have preferred.

But now he had his own ship.

The carrier was an old vessel, to be sure. But she was seaworthy, and
Pennis had never regretted his investment.

He had even made some improvements of his own.

"I just can't take it anymore," gasped Pennis Mold, tipping against
the hold and clutching his stomach in a decaying imitation of his
brother's photogenic, sportsmanlike physicality. He dropped the very
important folder of leaves he had just removed from the ship's vault.

"What, you'd rather head back up top? Relax. We'll rendezvous with
your brother soon."

"It's not the ship that's making me sick."

"Maybe you shouldn't have eaten so much of that weird cereal."

"Paris sent me another case. I wouldn't feel right just throwing it
away."

Pennis started back towards his quarters. Then reversed course. Then
reversed again. He stared down at his shoes, which promptly faded into
the floor beneath him. He was seeing green circles, spheres, squares,
cubes, words. When he tried to focus on them he found that nothing
came to mind.

Piro switched back to optical and then checked again. As with his
other sensor sweeps, the visual pass confirmed that there were no
approaching ships. He glanced over at Thomas and wondered if his visor
would report the same thing. That is, if Thomas were to muster any
interest in scanning the horizon. Piro imported his department's
budget and earmarked an allotment for upgrades to his team's standard
equipment. New visors for all his men.

"What I'd like is for everyone to be prepared to withdraw at a
moment's notice," stated Plinth.

"Understood, sir."

"I don't expect this will take very long. In fact, if not for the
simple pleasures of life at sea, I doubt I would have agreed to this
meeting at all."

Piro and Thomas both rolled their eyes.

"We'll be taking the same route back. I intend for us all to derive
some enjoyment from this cruise. Consider it a peculiar sort of
vacation. A paid vacation, obviously."

"If you don't mind my saying so, boss, the South Atlantic is kind of
an awkward venue for a family dispute," observed Thomas.

"Thomas, the open seas are essentially the only place left on Earth
where humans may whisper to each other in relative privacy."

Incredulous looks. That hadn't been true for decades.

"In any case, this meeting will hardly constitute a debate. We've long
ago settled any differences we might have had between us. Contrary to
what you two have probably surmised, I intend to shake the man's
hand."

"That's a whole grab bag of intentions you've got there, boss."

"Hush now, Thomas."

"Gentlemen."

Plinth Mold removed his safety belt and stepped out onto the deck of
the carrier. At his side were his personal chef, an armed guard, and
three of his most trusted attorneys. The chef shuffled nervously,
fingering the weapon concealed within his coat pocket.

Let's get out of this damned sunlight, thought the chef.

"Let's get out of this sunlight," suggested Plinth Mold, and all who
were present nodded in agreement.

Arriving to greet Plinth and his entourage were a coterie of men in
green suits. Vintage microfiber. They pegged Piro immediately as a
fellow specialist and nodded to him, exchanging introductions via
private channel. The conjoined group of men made their way into a
vacant deck elevator and adjusted their postures to accommodate the
cramped space. Presently, the doors swung shut and the mechanism
slowly lowered them into the sub-levels of the carrier.

Inexplicably, Plinth's attorneys seemed as nervous as the chef.

The elevator doors slid open again and Plinth took the lead,
navigating a winding series of passageways that finally terminated in
the entrance to an executive conference room. He felt at home on the
carrier, and somehow seemed familiar with its layout. This came as a
mild surprise since he had never previously studied the vessel, nor
had he ever set foot aboard such a craft. On the other hand, it was
sometimes difficult for him to isolate the experiences which had
accumulated throughout his long life. It was certainly possible that
the carrier had, at some point in time, belonged to him or to one of
his holding companies. He was amused because he could not remember,
could not distinguish between whimsy and reality.

Plinth poured himself a glass of water and replaced the pitcher at the
center of the table.

Lt. Commander Wetbeard was the first to spot the lighthouse. He
reached instinctively for his pressure screen, but the board had gone
dead. He fumbled in his shirt and eventually produced his personal
leaf. Shit. It would not power up.

Without Piro to guide their attention, the percept team was scrambling
on the deck below.

Thomas finally gave up on aiming at the toilet and resigned himself to
urinating on the floor.

GREEN SQUARES

tags: 1993, interviewer, pennis_mold, plinth_mold, wetbeard

It was Plinth's turn to evince incredulity. Obviously, there was no
lighthouse at these coordinates, or at any other coordinates in the
general vicinity. The apparent reality of the situation did not mesh
with with common sense. The situation was untenable.

Plinth employed the use of a vintage chronometer, worn on his wrist.
Presently, he fingered the device as his lawyers booted up their
paperwork."We're in the middle of the South Atlantic, Wetbeard," he
said."Please explain."

"Sir, I don't know where it came from. I looked down, and then I
looked up. From out of nowhere, it was there."

"Well, what am I paying you for? Steer the ship out of its way."

"Sir, that's what I've been trying to tell you. I­"

"So, after you founded'MATERIAL', then what?"

"Plinth was impressed. I'd finally done something right. With his
encouragement, I went ahead and launched TURBO FUCKIN': SENSUAL
MAGAZINE as well as the fringe one, SASQUATCH COLOGNE. Neither of them
lasted long."

"Hm. What went wrong?"

"Basically, I went to sleep one night and had a dream that God was
real. I mean, physically real. And I was lucky enough to be born as
His incarnation on Earth. I guess what was most difficult about the
whole episode was that I... Well, I actually believed it. I believed
in the dream wholeheartedly."

"Haha, a foolproof source of information because dreams are so often
known to mirror reality."

"Exactly. Heh. You know, don't ask me to explain it, but at the time
it seemed rational. Or should I say, intuitive."

"Ah, I see. That old pratfall. Laid clean by the banana peel of
subjective cognition. I remember a time when I was forced by my
grandfather to drive one of those four-wheeled automobiles. Mercedes,
I believe they were called. I couldn't make sense of the steering
mechanism. No Tetris blocks, as we have today. My grandfather was
livid. He actually punched me in the shoulder! He couldn't believe
that someone my age would have no interest in piloting one of his
antique vehicles. What a laugh, right? I told him to just use his leaf
and order the groceries himself. Of course, by the time all of this
took place he had been blind for thirty years."

"What can I say. You only know what you know. If you can't trust your
own mind, what can you trust? The tactile leaf interface was foreign
to him; the car, not so much. Your grandfather probably thought you
were an idiot."

"And I, him. you have to admit that there was no real way he could
have taught me to drive, in his condition. He was not equipped for the
task. Just as in your dream, you conceived that the Green had been
made flesh. Believing yourself, in fact, to be an incarnation of the
Green, despite a complete lack of empirical evidence for your claim.
I'm sure you can see the parallel I'm drawing here. Both of you were
groping for an appropriate set of terms, clawing for a hand-hold in
the cliff-face of ambiguity that immediately blocked your path."

"Okay, okay, you've got me there. Maybe I wasn't God after all."

The boat lurched sharply, causing the walls of the mess hall to
reorient violently. The interviewer's laughter seg-faulted into a
vague, restrained panic.

"I don't like the sound of that."

"Neither will my brother."

Silence then, as Pennis rearranged his folders.

"Tell me again about God's peculiarities with regards to intellectual
property."

"Oh yes. As God, I briefly refused to interact with humans on the
grounds that one of them might try to sue me... In the event that I
ended up creating something which too closely resembled one of their
fan fictions. Or prayers, as they were known."

"Never mind the Scriptures, I guess! Was this before or after the
introduction of your DNA-filtering condoms?"

"Oh, long before. All of this happened before Plinth set me up in the
manufacturing business. This was even before the RODS MAGAZINE
lawsuits. I had yet to piss away my share of our father's fortune.
Plinth was still doing the action figures, partnered with that Swedish
fellow."

"I wonder if he's going to be happy to see you."

"He'll make it seem so. You see, I have physical possession of his
Green certificates. And we both know he wants them back."

A LARGE ROOM WITH NO LIGHT

tags: 1993, albert_lunsford, calbert_whimsy, piro, plinth_mold, tab1

Hello, I'm Calbert Whimsy, Master Of Ethics at POLICY SCHOOL: WHISKEY
TANGO FOXTROT. For twenty-five consecutive generations, the men of my
family have stood watch over your children and their education.
Granted, twenty of those generations were vat-grown, simultaneously,
over the last decade. And yes, we correspond. Ah ha ha ha. I've made a
little joke. It is a pleasure to see you here, you all say. Likewise,
I'm sure.

As you may have guessed, I'm not really Calbert Whimsy. Somehow,
though, they've fitted me in here, floating paralyzed amongst these
sharks. The Families. Their publicists, attorneys, clergy. And now
I've got to give this speech to the Green Consortium assembled. I've
had better days.

Thirty years ago I entered this profession, not knowing what to
expect.

THE STRAND is a luxury liner, Old British flag and technically
off-limits to agents such as myself. This class of people are not
supposed to be subjected to operational trifles such as political
assassinations and internetwork intrigue. Let's just say I'm off the
clock. The Lunsford affair was a wake-up call nobody wanted to hear.
The collective, meaty fist of the Green aristocracy simply mashed
their alarm clock and rolled over on their 800 thread count sheets.
Hopefully, right into the wet spot.

Overheard from my place behind the podium:

I'm warning you, don't try to kiss my ass. I mean that. Don't do it.
I'm serious, now. Don't. I hate it when people try to kiss my ass. Oh,
yes, you may kiss his ass as often as you please!

And:

He said it was life or death. He was pounding against the police
vehicle, just going to town. My man at the dispatch center reported
the machine wouldn't authorize his identoplate. So, no entry to the
back seat. I told him, it must have been a clerical error. Nothing to
be done, you see. I got the impression his partner was irritated, but
he didn't say anything as he drove me away from the rioting crowd of
students. I never found out what became of the officer we left behind.

Raucous laughter, all around. These people are far from funny, but
they don't even know it.

From time to time, an exceptionally gregarious, obviously very special
student will arrive in our class, and vex us all with their easy
brilliance. I know what you're thinking. Each and every one of you is
smiling now, convinced that I'm talking about your child. Well, I'm
not. Ha ha. Let us stipulate that I'm not referring to your particular
little brat.

You might say that this is a bit of a roast. I'm not entirely
comfortable, exposing myself like this on stage.

But the weak humor is contagious. Someone in the audience gets clever
and plays back the sound of crickets chirping. I squint at the crowd
and realize that it's my support man, apparently trying to blow his
cover. I want to yank on his bolo-tie and force-feed him a handful of
the ship's platinum salad forks. Connecting us directly in this
context is a mistake. But in spite of his gaffe, you simply can't
launch a wetwork operation from aboard THE STRAND without a hype-man.
Since the script is a shambles, we'll be ad-libbing from here on in.

Mercifully, I complete my monologue without further interruption and
I'm cleared to leave the stage. I'm not entirely sure what all I've
just said, but the audience seems to more or less approve. My
counterpart will have to sort it out later. I warned him I was no good
in front of an audience.

I check THE STRAND's operating radius for other ships. This particular
sector of the South Atlantic is out of bounds to commercial traffic.
In fact, at this time of year, THE STRAND is the only ship permitted
to ply its waters at all. But that doesn't mean we're alone out here.

I've got to keep an eye out for Piro.

Before I know it I've been scooped back up on stage. This time the
lights are dimmed and I can make out the players from the various
fandoms that were listed in the mission brief. I throw in some
targeted references to key episodes of the relevant series. It goes
over very well.

We've heard from a lot of educators tonight! But no one has even
mentioned the litigators! Let's hear it for general counsel!

This brings on a spate of vigorous cheering and I am once again
whisked offstage.

Four thespians in black tights approach the boards, each with brightly
colored puppets sewn onto the fronts of their shirts. The effect, in
combination with the carefully controlled lighting, is one of
disembodied cartoon animals who glide back and forth across the stage,
seemingly disconnected from the floor. The performance itself is
protected by copyright. I refer to these creatures as thespians, but
in reality they are Consortium members, plucked at random from the
crowd. An annual tradition with this group, the script, such as it
exists, is familiar, and the audience members cum dancers have little
trouble falling into the routine. Their friends and family are by this
time well and truly soused, voicing their approval at considerable
volume. Monitors throughout the ship pipe the performance into the
corridors, and even into the head. Men are pissing themselves
listening to it.

I catch myself drumming on the table and immediately shove my hand
back into the pocket of my tuxedo jacket.

I'm here for a reason.

Not to participate in the show.

On schedule, I spasm wildly and vomit across the lap of my companion.
Over her protestations (etiquette, you see) I am pulled away from the
table and assisted to my cabin. Once alone, I remove my outer garments
and verify that my stresspants boot up at optimum capacity.
Impulsively, I clip the bow-tie from my stage costume onto my wetsuit,
directly under my chin. I regard myself in the mirror and then squeeze
myself out, through the porthole, exiting the cabin forever.

The ocean is slick with rain, a flickering black mirror of
half-reflected moonlight. My visor activates as I dip below the
surface, attempting to compensate for the darkness. Short-range sonar
detects no walls, floors or obstructions anywhere nearby. I'm
momentarily blinded in a large room with no light.

Gradually, my testicles shrink up, triggering my stresspants to
activate.

At length, mission intel streams to life, glittering into my field of
vision across the back of an enormous gray whale.

Plinth Mold.

It is time.

1OCT1993

tags: 1993, pennis_mold, piro, plinth_mold, tab1, violet

"That's no whale."

"Sure it is, sir."

"No."

Piro had not yet been informed about the lighthouse. He stood on the
bridge of the carrier and surveyed the scene cautiously, not rushing
to judgment. He took in the particulars of the situation before
venturing forward, hoping to avoid the unhappy possibility of issuing
conflicting orders. Something in him sensed that this was an unusual
situation, one that called for careful handling. His instincts, he
guessed.

"That cannot be a whale."

Absorbed in disbelief, Piro realized that his reasoning had not been
made clear to the command team of the carrier.

"A whale is not green," he explained.

"But Pennis, he's up there, right now!"

"But Violet, I don't care!"

"Come on now, sir, you'll be okay once we get you up on your feet. You
can't allow a little seasickness to scuttle the whole mission."

"Negative. I've ruined some of the leaves."

Pennis Mold tried to wipe off his stack of leaves. The vomit had made
them sticky, clingy. His shirt was also damp. It would take a while to
extricate the devices, one from the other. Luckily, at least, all of
them seemed to be functional.

"New paradigm. Synergy. I'm staying in bed."

"Pennis, sir, stand up."

"No."

Violet decided to take matters into her own hands.

Okay, I'm floating and I'm not-floating at the same time. Alternating,
I should say. Accosted by a whale with arms. Arms that are, presently,
dipping me in and out of the water at an alarming rate. I'm thinking
now that maybe this is not really a whale after all.

Before I know it, the scene changes up and I'm being strangled by a
large set of gray fingers.

I recall that, per my mission rider, I'm equipped with a variety of
specialized tools. I react smoothly, activating reflex algorithms that
in turn select an appropriate utensil for sawing my way out of the
tentacle headlock. As the automated system goes to work, the
not-whale's gripping apparatus gradually begins to loosen its hold.
Perhaps having thought better of snacking on highly trained covert
agents, the not-whale withdraws its remaining tentacles, and I make
the most of a bad situation by allowing the current to drag me the
rest of the way out of its reach. As I'm floating off, I login to my
side-arm and lob a few rounds into its bulging, unblinking eye,
wondering where a foul creature such as this houses its genitals.
Wondering, also, if its genitals are larger, or smaller than, its
brain.

After inadvertently swallowing a bit of sea water, I discard my ruined
sawing tool and wade towards Plinth's ship, syncing my chronometer
with it's time server. Scrolling, I see that the lead crew has just
finished their lunch. The percept team will be light on men for
another thirty minutes or so, depending on their local union
agreement.

Hoisting myself up, onto Plinth's ship, I traverse the railing and
immediately drop to the deck, slapping my face against its cold, slick
surface. Sixty seconds later I'm still catching my breath.

I'm taken slightly off guard, startled, when Piro sets to screaming in
my ear about the impending comms disruption.

Did I just black out?

"Piro to P. Mold, it looks like we're going to have to abort."

"Nonsense, I'm pro-life."

The men in the green microfiber suits held their expressions, ignoring
Plinth's attempt at easy humor.

"I can only guarantee channel integrity for another twenty seconds,
sir. Less, if the enormous green squid off our portside bow chews the
carrier in half."

Plinth turned to his attorneys. Then he thought better of it and
returned to the men in the microfiber suits, who remained inscrutable
as before. A number of alternatives spun through his mind until he
abruptly halted the evaluation loop, manually copied a single string
of data into his speech buffer. Discarding the false starts, he parted
his lips and began to speak in his customarily assured and controlling
tone, but was interrupted by the unfolding of events.

The crashing of a particularly large wave causes me to lose a few
words, but I'm able to follow the gist of the conversation. Piro had
said that the not-whale was, in fact, green. Puzzling, as it certainly
doesn't look green to me.

Jarred by the incongruous data, I'm overcome by a sudden awareness
that I can't remember ever having seen colors outside the overlays in
my visor. Amazingly, I think that I may actually be­when not running
in enhanced mode, anyway­color blind. How in the name of the Green
could I never have noticed this? How could this possibly have been
overlooked during the course of my career?

It boggles, but these are definitely questions best considered
post-mission. After a few quick adjustments, I can now see the squid
in what I will assume is a true-color representation.

It's spamming big. And it's definitely green.

Color blind. It figures that this is the sort of thing I would have to
discover in the field.

A brief interlude of silence, stillness, in contrast to the clatter
that buttressed it on either side. Piro looked around and the quiet
seemed to be coming from the deck, of all places.

Directional silence, he thought.

Presently, the ambient audio resumed. A neon, flickering tentacle
appeared above Plinth's ship. Continuing its downward arc, the
tentacle proceeded to slice Lt. Commander Wetbeard's lookout tower
cleanly in half. Comms silence followed, as Piro, instantly refocusing
his display, attempted to mitigate the situation by routing through a
backup transceiver.

He blinked rapidly as his vision went to bluescreen for a period of
seconds.

Cognizance returned, Piro began to notice a stream of water on the
windshield that did not abate after each passing sheet of sea mist had
dispersed. The deck of the carrier was sloshing now with... Of course.
He vectored his line of sight vertically from the horizon and
instantly achieved visual confirmation of his suspicions.

So now there was rain to contend with, in addition to the other
problems. Piro drew his weapon and booted it up as he exited the
bridge of the carrier. He realized, then, that with comms down, he
would be unable to login. It seemed that today, everything would have
to be switched to manual.

Fortunately, Piro habitually equipped himself with serrated, as well
as network, weaponry. He rotated out the crippled network device and
attached a classical bladed instrument to his right arm.

Awake. Floating again, this time on deck. The variable terrain will
complicate movement towards the forward cabin and bridge. It looks
like the ship's taken some damage from the not-whale. Curiously, the
percept team hasn't regrouped to try and correct the course drift. I
wipe the blood out of my eyes and start moving again, forward as
always, towards the target.

As I make my way past the final civilian stateroom, partial comms are
restored.

Spam it, Plinth is no longer aboard. He's already transferred to
another ship.

Intuitively, my gaze shifts to the Cold War era aircraft carrier that
has lately appeared off the starboard bow.

Piro located the appropriate elevator and returned to the deck of the
carrier. Splashing through the rain, he approached one of the main
guns from behind and relieved its pilot. Once strapped into the weapon
he bore down on the enormous green squid, focusing his ammunition at
the beast's underside. The dead pilot's body floated away behind him,
his protestations about licensing rendered meaningless by the absence
of conscious volition.

As if in response to the barrage of weapons fire, the squid embarked
upon a series of awkward physical maneuvers. First, its soft
underbelly appeared to open up, forming an uncertain grin. From out of
this novel orifice, a flood of pink squares that turned into pink
cubes that turned into pink bubbles were loosed upon the deck of the
USS DOM DELUISE. Several forward members of the percept team slipped
and lost their balance, went tumbling to the boards, rolling one over
the other in a visual cacophony of limbs and bodies. Even so, each man
tried to keep his wits about him.

"It's all pink on the inside," went up the call from the forward-most
man.

"All pink on the inside!" echoed down the line.

Piro kept on firing, willing himself not to look away even as he
shifted his aim and emptied the remainder of his ammunition into the
squid's exposed eyeball. Aside from releasing an excessive amount of
smoke into the atmosphere and a troubling amount of black ink into the
water, Piro judged that the ammunition had seemed to achieve little
destructive effect. As he unleashed a brief salvo of explicit
invective, the squid's enormous eyeball blinked, as if to mock his
merely human judgment.

"But, a squid cannot blink."

Piro understood then that his words were not going to win the fight.
Even from his heavily vested point of view, he had to acknowledge that
the battle was not going well. Some alternate strategy must be
devised, put into play.

So, he thought, What next?

Alone in the head, it was almost quiet.

Pennis eased his stick back into his trousers. He watched with some
interest as a milky white bead of his semen broke apart and ran down
the door of his stall. He coughed, weakly. He'd given himself quite a
workout this time; his heartbeat was still audible in his ears. Why
did vomiting always make him so horny? Lost in thought, his eyes
remained glazed over as he pulled up his slacks.

Exiting the stall, a glimmer of light registered in his peripheral
vision, immediately snapping him out of his reverie. He noticed that
across the counter, one of the Green certificates was blinking.
Fumbling to wash his hands, he shook the moisture off and rushed over
to see what was the matter. A small amount of water transferred from
his fingertips onto the first device, causing a non-permanent
deformation of the imagery that floated along its external boundary.

After subjecting the leaf to a thorough examination, Pennis moved on
to the next unit from the top of the stack. Then, increasingly
disoriented, to the next. Finally, he doubled back to check his work.
The record presented by the leaves could not possibly be accurate. The
narrative was inconsistent with the facts as Pennis knew them, had
experienced them over the years and decades since he had become aware
of himself as a Mold.

And yet, the certificates all seemed to be in order.

It was, quite simply, astonishing.

Pennis shook his head, and then he shook it again. According to the
evidence laid out before him, his brother, Plinth Mold, was the sole
patent holder and undisputed trademark administrator of several of the
key technologies that had been licensed to develop the sub-framework
of the Green. Possession of these certificates would radically alter
the tone and substance of any future negotiations between Plinth and
the Green Consortium. Let's be honest, he thought, Between Plinth and
anyone, anywhere. It was a remarkable collection of documents.

Pennis attempted, at this point, to deduce what his brother was really
up to. He knew from long experience that seeking to puzzle out
Plinth's actual motives would be an exercise in futility. An obvious
dead end. Instead, he would focus upon the likelihood of various
outcomes, and attempt to discern Plinth's intended destination.
Perhaps predictably, no matter which tangent his speculations
followed, no matter what obscure avenue his suspicions swept down, as
he approached a final, unified model, his concentration would crumble
and he would be left with no theory, no explanation, no articulate
conclusion; only the visceral, irrational certainty that:

I want no part in any of Plinth's dubious intellectual property
schemes.

He felt that, even in the absence of a convincing rhetorical argument,
his objection would prove appropriate. Call it a gut instinct, he
thought.

In the end Pennis sensed that, by resisting, he was merely prolonging
the inevitable. For his trouble, Plinth would probably simply shrug
and set him up in a new job. Pat him on the head and tell him not to
take things so seriously. Thanks to their father, the family still
owned the government, no matter what trouble the Mold brothers found
themselves in.

Pennis resigned himself to chairing yet another board of directors, to
driving yet another thriving, multinational corporation into the
ground.

He supposed things could be worse.

In the midst of all the action, a new thought occurred to Plinth Mold:

Why not simply cut his losses and end it all now?

No sooner had the question formed in his mind than Plinth understood
the notion to have contained its own affirmation. He was beside
himself, amused. Had events honestly progressed to the point where
such a thought could present itself as a question? He realized the
concern was immaterial.

Plinth fingered his chronometer and marked the date. 1Oct1993. Later
than he had planned, actually. Something had kept the cycle going this
time, well beyond the projections he had laid down in his youth.
Curious... He was surprised to discover that he was no longer entirely
in control of his emotions. Imagery from previous eras flooded his
awareness, overwhelming his ability to track. As the sensation
intensified, he steadied himself against the conference table.

This fleeting nausea was troubling.

He reflected that Piro, Thomas, the attorneys, the chef­all of his
crew­would be lost in the transition to follow. In point of fact, all
of humanity would be dropped from memory. No record would survive.
None would need to.

Except, he thought, for one.

"I'm pro-life," he said, apropos nothing.

Plinth's attorneys glanced up at him, arching their eyebrows
professionally. The men in the green microfiber suits had, for the
first time since their introduction, altered their facial expressions.
They were laughing amongst themselves at an obscure joke involving the
manual to Photoshop 3.51. This second group of men betrayed no sign of
having heard what he'd said.

Plinth Mold gazed at the humans with affection.

Without further delay, he spoke into his shirtsleeve and killed all
processes of the Eternal September.

Bits of Plinth's boat were splayed across the surface of the water.
For some reason, not sinking. Plinth reacted casually to this. He
paddled over to a piece of debris and attached himself such that he
could remain afloat without having to expend further effort.

Fingering his chronometer, Plinth discovered that comms were still
down. Even long-range channels were unresponsive. He switched to
satellite and got nothing. Inside, his servos were running blind
without network updates.

So, he'd really done it.

Plinth continued to float there, alone.

The sun was up. Redaction Day, again. The real whales had arrived by
now and were beginning to circle the remains of the broken-up ships.
Plinth ignored them and made a few final checks before accepting the
obvious. Humanity, minus one, was gone. His Hard Boot had taken
effect.

Plinth jettisoned the dead equipment from his makeshift raft and began
to scan the area for signs of life. Eventually, he went into damage
control mode, straightening the front of his shirt and slicking down
his hair. He lit a cigarette and adjusted his eye patch. A whale
crested nearby, displacing, and finally submerging, one of the
scattered islands of refuse. Plinth was starting to get hungry. He
discovered that somewhere along the line, he'd developed a painful
erection.

Violet, the mother of civilization, should be floating along soon.

END BOOK THREE

addendum

'CRASH ORIGIN'

CRASH ORIGIN

tags: 1987, piro, tab1, tab2

1

Le Bourget, Paris, 1987.

Mid-morning. Overcast. Thomas and Piotr are threading through a crowd
of spectators.

"Sunscreen check," announces Piotr.

"But the sun's not even out," complains Thomas.

Piotr shoots him a look."Safety first. Next, comfort."

Thomas produces a small tube of sunscreen from his pocket and proceeds
to apply it evenly across his nose and cheeks.

"Satisfied?" he asks.

"Never," Piotr replies,"But I'm close to spectacular."

Thomas observes the slight distance between them, then bumps shoulders
with his twin brother.

"Not in the field," Thomas says, his thoughts apparently moving
towards evening.

My son is never prepared for anything. This is intersubjectively
testable. Try surprising him. You'll find him unprepared. Example:
Send a number of military jets crashing into the ground. You'll find
he can think of no response. Piotr is always pulling clean-up duty.

This has been the steady pattern, played out over two decades.

The boy has now turned thirty. The peak of his operational powers.
Still, he does nothing. Sits there and trades one-liners with his
partner. No return on investment. My reports frequently exaggerate his
exploits.

After all, this all comes out of my budget.

Sunlight cracks the clouds as the first plane careens into the
pavement. I steer a brightly painted Mig-29 into the crowd,
accidentally clipping a building in the process. Debris pelts the
bystanders below. Probably, eighty or ninety dead. Thomas and Piotr
are a few hundred yards off, but they enjoy a clear line of sight to
the carnage.

Thomas' response?

Bewilderment, at first. My son stands transfixed. He fingers his
visor, instinctively, but evinces no other reaction. Not even a change
in his facial expression.

Piotr suffers no such paralysis. He shifts contexts with ease, drawing
his side-arm and sweeping the corridor overhead. When no new danger
presents itself, he looks towards Tommy.

Priorities.

I bring in the next two planes simultaneously. A pair of old RF-4Es.
Piotr's side-arm is quite naturally useless against the two masses
traveling at such a velocity. For his part, Thomas remains riveted to
his spot. Even if his visor is malfunctioning, there is still the
sound, the smoke from multiple impacts that has surely reached his
nostrils. Why doesn't he react?

Piotr grasps him by the back of the shirt and hurls him behind a high
wall as flames envelop the vacant space beside them.

2

This is not how I expected it to happen.

At the same time, it very much conforms to my vision of the
destruction. Even if the alarm is ringing six years late.

The planes are falling.

Piro is yanking on my shirt, we're diving behind a building. There are
flames.

That first plane was Soviet. Seems to be a multilateral engagement.

The logical result of Glasnost?

Of course, I'm not harmed. I'm invulnerable. Class 100 strength.
Flight.

Piotr's photographic reflexes aren't much use against disintegrating
architecture, but he has a knack for getting out of the way of large
objects.

I punch my way through the wall and barrel face first through the
smoke. Bodies are splayed everywhere. Horrific smells. Some dead
children.

I lift some older citizens away from the fires, then report back to
Piotr.

"Something's not right about this, boss."

Piotr's eyes are focused on some distant point. By the gentle arc of
his stare I deduce he is tracking a moving object.

"RIIIIIIIIIGHT FACE!" he cries. Instinctively, I spin ninety degrees
to my right, just in time for Piotr to give me a hard shove.

He's shot me in the back.

I go down.

3

He's impossible.

At least he's toppled over. That one almost got us.

I give him a hand and then dust off his back. I guess I've ruined his
shirt.

He seems to think it's funny, so we're good.

A lot of activity in the sky, now. Some planes are starting to land
instead of just crashing into the ground. Notably, a Blackbird and
what appears to be an F-117A. Strange that the latter should be out
and about during the day. And at a foreign air show, no less.
Officially, the plane doesn't even exist.

A number of jeeps escort the two planes off the runway. A hangar is
opened up and the parade disappears behind closed doors.

I motion to Thomas and he confirms.

We need to investigate.

4

What the hell are they doing?

Thomas and Piotr are inside the hanger. I lost them for a moment but
then I caught site of my son's ridiculous spiked hair.

I move a few sentries into an adjacent corridor.

Then the boys turn left.

Suddenly, I flash on an idea.

The boys still haven't made their way out of the administrative
offices. There is time to move the planes out the other side of the
hangar. When they finally break through, the hangar will be empty.
It's simple sleight of hand.

Obviously, nothing could ever be that easy.

Piotr picks up on the sounds of activity and they're faster breaching
the main corridor than I had anticipated.

I make an executive decision to light up the whole building. The Air
Force will have to take the loss. These men knew what they were
signing up for.

I console myself that this will look great on television. Especially
with the Soviet plane coming down first.

All in all, not a total loss.

5

When the explosions kick in I know for sure that my father is
involved.

I hoist Piotr by his backpack and punch a hole through the roof. We're
well above the fray by the time the building collapses. Piotr takes
potshots at the scrambling jeeps.

The sky seems alive with fighter jets, all converging on our position.

I fly faster.

6

I'm shouting curses in Thomas' ear but at this speed he can't hear me.
I know he can survive in a vacuum but I hope he remembers I've no
protection against the cold. In the hopes of surviving our escape, I
snatch the respirator from my backpack and stick it on my nose. The
sky is growing dark.

7

My son is an idiot.

IMPRESSIVELY ARTICULATE

tags: 1989, 1990, christopher, eva_bright,
john_ratcliff, ken_thompson, piro, tab1, tab2

1

The Chrysler Building. New York. 1989.

New Year's Eve.

"I'd like to propose a thought experiment for anti-Evolution
Creationists: Suppose God created the 4-D space/time football six
thousand years ago."

"Complete with billions of years of real history?"

"Exactly."

"Are you suggesting this would bypass their objections to evolutionary
theory?"

"I'm suggesting it would confuse them."

2

"Here you are, doing the Devil's work."

Super-Sonic. John Ratcliff. White Male wearing tattered jeans and a
gray sweater. Acclaimed poet. Enforcer.

"The Devil can cite Scripture for his own purpose. I'm merely
speculating on possible angles of attack."

The Raven. Christopher. No last name on record. African-American
vigilante. Black T-shirt with slogan in white News Gothic:
'Impressively Articulate.'

"I'd really like to hear what my father would have to say about all
this."

Sonic Boom. Ken Thompson. Not that Ken Thompson. Asian-American
speedster. Green polo shirt. Jeans.

"You're drowning in rhetoric," John observed."Argumentation is not the
best weapon against these types."

"Stipulated," allowed Christopher.

"You guys are too cynical."

In unison:"Shut up, Ken."

3

"Brothers, please. Decorum."

Actron. Thomas Bright. White male. Ostensible leader of the Actron
Team. Blue cotton button down shirt with black silk tie. Thomas
brushed aside the disturbance and poured himself a glass of water from
the fridge. Ken popped up the collar of his polo shirt and leaned back
into his seat.

"I don't mind, really. My ideas are still forming."

"Shut up, Ken," said Thomas.

"Enough of this dick party. We need a woman's opinion. Where's Eva?"

Christopher pushed his chair away from the table and stood up. He made
eye contact with John before vacating the room.

"Nevermore," he rasped, sarcastically, and left.

4

"What's his problem?" asked Ken.

"They're not getting along," said Thomas, stating the obvious.

"Seriously though," continued John,"Where is she? We were discussing
this just last week. I know she has something to contribute, but I
don't want to speak for her. I want to hear her explain it herself."

Thomas gestured with his glass, spilling a small amount of water onto
the kitchen floor."I think she's on the phone with Los Angeles."

5

"Yeah, let's not tell him I called," Piro wheezed into his mouthpiece,
still catching his breath."I don't think we need to bother him with
every detail of the operation."

"Fine with me. You take care of yourself out there. From what I
understand, L.A. is starting to..."

"Yeah, L.A. is."

Eva clicked her phone shut and crushed her cigarette in the
retractable ashtray. She wondered when it would be possible to move
her corporation away from the cocaine trade. Recent developments in
domestic politics were making it difficult to keep her agents' names
out of the news. She sighed, then drew the blinds in her office and
made her way to the kitchen.

6

"Why did economists not do a better job of anticipating the crisis?"

"Tom, it's just not that simple."

"You always say that."

"The causal mechanism behind growth and decline is not fully
understood. All known models are essentially useless."

"You always say that, too."

"I don't know what else to tell you."

"Well, tell me something. Tell me anything. I need answers."

John rolled his eyes.

7

"What are you guys talking about?"

Eva sat down at the kitchen table and dealt a hand of cards.

"This and that," said Thomas, picking up his cards and inspecting his
hand.

"Christopher was going on about Creationists. Then he got mad and
left."

"Shut up, Ken," said Eva.

Ken fumed silently. John remained silent for an appropriate interval
and then picked up the dangling thread.

"Our Chris has an antagonistic bent. I suggested we should hear your
side of the story. That was too much for him to bear."

"It's not like I would have defended the Creationists," said Eva."But
I would have been fair."

"Exactly," smiled John.

"Whatever. Christopher is really focused on this issue. I'm sure it
will come up again."

"It's inevitable," sighed John.

"By design," added Ken, and this time no one bothered to correct him.

8

Thomas' luck was infuriating to his teammates. He won every hand but
didn't even understand the game.

"I'll just take this one out of your paychecks," he said.

"Your poker record is truly remarkable," started John,"Considering we
have to remind you of the rules every time we play."

"What's to remark? The fruits of a superior motivation."

"Also known as the Will to Power. Tell us, just what lengths are you
willing to go to in order to achieve your goals?"

"Not funny. Just a fact. Besides, I've moved on from Nietzsche."

"There are no facts. And no one moves on from Nietzsche. We've caught
you before. I suspect you've found a new way to cheat."

"All right, I feel stupid," admitted Thomas."I don't know what to
say."

John relaxed his posture, enjoying the easy victory."I'll give you a
few seconds to come up with a story."

"Fuck," said Thomas.

"All right boys," interrupted Eva, scooping up her playing cards and
returning them to the deck."Let's keep it PG-13."

"Mom, he's cheating!" cried John."Punish him!"

"No, I'm serious. You're all fired," Thomas said, and left the room.
No one was sure if he was serious.

"And that settles that," said Ken.

Eva's phone rang as the clock turned over into 1990.

She switched off the ringer.

YOU'VE POSTED THIS BEFORE

tags: 1990, john_ratcliff, ken_thompson, piro, tab2

1

The Chrysler Building. New York. 1990.

January.

"You've posted this before."

"No shit."

"So why are you posting it again?"

Piro arched an eyebrow."It's tradition."

"Seriously?"

Piro sat at the keyboard clacking away. Simple, declarative sentences.
Topical assertions.

"Nobody cares about this stupid newsletter," offered Thomas.

Piro remained silent. Typing.

"Nobody's even going to read it."

Silence.

"Your spelling sucks."

Piro flicked on the radio and turned up the volume.

Thomas grimaced."I hate reading."

Piro leaned over the mimeograph machine, making small adjustments to
various knobs and switches while Thomas fidgeted in the doorway.

"There's literally no way I'm going to help you fold all of those
things."

"I don't care."

"This whole side-project is stupid. You really think the value-added
is necessary? This stuff sells itself. No'free gift with purchase'
required."

Piro stopped what he was doing and turned to face his twin brother.

"If you're not going to contribute to the newsletter, please go into
the kitchen and start bagging up rocks."

Thomas shrugged and wandered out of the room.

2

Ken steered the Actron Team's 1978 Lincoln Town Car through the
streets of Alphabet City. Trash on the sidewalk reflected in the car's
fresh candy paint. Passing some children, Ken boosted the volume on
the custom sound system. The children giggled and pointed. He smiled
and mashed the gas pedal. Shining.

Destination: The G-Spot.

Ken rounded the final corner and slowly brought the outsized car to a
stop. He lowered a tinted window and inspected his immediate
surroundings. The parking lot was deserted save for two NYPD cruisers
and a 1979 Chevrolet Monte Carlo (sky blue metal flake, white
interior, whitewall tires; that would be John). Ken popped the collar
on his polo shirt and exited the vehicle.

Inside, the club was all but vacant. Smoke from an abandoned cigarette
snaked upward towards a light bulb hanging from the ceiling. The two
police officers were inspecting a briefcase full of cocaine. One of
them turned around and smiled dumbly, coke caked in his mustache. John
Ratcliff stood nearby, a duffel bag full of money slung over his
shoulder. When he saw his partner he frowned and shrugged.

Ken stood in the entryway and surveyed the empty stage. Strobe lights
clicked rhythmically, strangely loud in the otherwise silent environs.

"Where the white women at?" he finally asked.

The cop with the coke mustache started to giggle, but never finished
his outburst. Ken activated his super-speed and closed the distance
between himself and the two officers in a hundred milliseconds flat.
He slammed the meat of his open hand into the first officer's chin,
then rolled with the momentum into the second officer's chest,
following him to the ground. Both cops collapsed, unconscious, Ken
straightened himself and dusted off his knees.

"Hmph," he he remarked, unimpressed.

John hoisted both men from the floor and hung them by their jacket
collars on coat hooks near the front entrance. Each would see hospital
time but neither would suffer permanent injury. John tossed the bag
full of money at Ken and made his way over to the bar to pour himself
a drink.

"Tired of this grind."

"So quit."

"You're funny."

Ken sighed.

"Yeah."

3

Outside, some children had wandered into the parking lot and were
peering inside Jon's Monte Carlo, noses pressed up against the glass.

"Boy, is that white leather?"

"Sure is."

"My brother's car is like this, but his doesn't have leather."

"Sounds like your brother needs to find himself a better paying job."

Ken flopped the briefcase full of coke onto the hood of the car.

"Take this to your brother. If he brings it back in a week, filled
with money..."

"We have great health insurance," interrupted John."Dental and vision.
Also, free car detailing. We'll see what we can do about his vinyl
seats."

"Wow, mister! Thanks!"

John patted the boy on the head and then got into the Monte Carlo and
peeled out. Ken smoked a cigarette, wandered back to the Lincoln and
rolled over a beer bottle on his way out of the parking lot. There was
no damage to the Town Car's bullet-proof tires.

As soon as the adults were gone the boys pounced on the briefcase,
numerous hands scooping out coke and heaving it carelessly over their
shoulders. As it happened, directly into the wind. Some of the powder
blew back and caught in their teeth and hair. Undeterred by this minor
annoyance, the boys wiped the backs of their hands across their faces
and soon discovered the rows of individually wrapped crack rocks that
lined the bottom of the briefcase. Immediately, they went to work
removing the wrappers.

Tossing the pebbles of crack aside, each paper wrapper was inspected
closely, compared carefully with the others. Soon it became apparent
that all of the wrappers were identical. Worse, the material was
immediately recognizable. Not just predictable, but in fact an exact
duplicate of an issue they had all read before.

"It's a fucking reprint," said one of the boys.

He flipped over the wrapper, frantically scanning for the publisher
information. There, printed in bold Helvetica, was the name of their
nemesis:

Massive Fictions. Piotr Bright, Publisher.

The Chrysler Building.

NYC.

One of the boys produced a brick phone from his backpack and put in a
call to headquarters.

Calling in for backup.

YOU ARE NOT A GADGET, HE CLAIMED, VIA CELLPHONE

tags: 1990, eva_bright, freeway_ricky_ross, jaron_lanier,
ken_thompson, piro, tab1, tab2

1

Dreamed I was a tomcat.

Trundling along the side of the road, fur matted with dirty snow.
Searching for illegal narcotics.

My women were nowhere to be found.

Which was fine.

I happened to be armed. As I ambled along, a car sped by and splashed
sludge in my face. I fired three rounds into its rear-right tire and
the driver went over an embankment. An excruciating crashing noise
followed. It rang in my ears.

I approached the vehicle and emptied the rest of my weapon into the
driver's chest.

I found part of a hollowed out cantaloupe and slipped it over my head.

Cute.

No one would prosecute a Persian cat.

2

"Oh, great."

"What?"

"I accidentally saved an image of Spider-Man in my porn folder."

"So? Move it. Or delete it."

"But I clicked'Save' without seeing the name of the file."

"So?"

"So, how am I supposed to find it? This folder is 5TB. I don't want
that Spider-Man image to someday be found amongst my archival porn."

"So, go back and start to save it again and see what the suggested
filename is. You probably just hit'Enter' when you saved it."

"That... is a very good idea."

"I think I once helped your dad with a similar problem."

3

Jaron Lanier scooped up a handful of the white powder and inspected it
closely.

"This appears to be cocaine."

"No shit, Lanier," said Piro.

Lanier peered into his hand, face wrinkled in concentration.

Piro turned to Thomas."He's always like this."

"He doesn't get high out of our supply, does he?"

Piro stopped Thomas before he went any further with that line of
thought.

"No. At least, not that I'm aware."

4

It turned out that my son had the drugs.

Nepeta cataria. Fifty grams. I'm certain his intent was to sell.

I left ten grams with an I.O.U.

The rest I put in my nose. I then put on dark sunglasses to mask my
dilated pupils, the visible redness in my eyes.

A car drove by and its pilot tossed an empty beer can at my head. It
bounced off the cantaloupe and skittered into the grass by the side of
the road.

I peered at the exhaust trail over the top of my sunglasses.

Then I pulled out my gun.

5

It was Ken on the phone.

"Lanier, I need some help with these verb tenses."

"Not now, Ken, we're... weighing... the drugs."

Piro snatched the phone away from him and barked into the mouthpiece.

"Ken! Not on this phone!"

He jammed his thumb on the'End' button and then turned back to Lanier.

"Are you damaged? He can study on his own time!"

"Sorry, sorry," said Lanier, taking a kilo off of the scales.

Piro extracted the SIM card from the phone and crushed it in his hand.

"Card," he said.

Ricky tossed him a replacement and Piro snapped it into place, booted
up the phone. He dialed New York.

"Eva, patch me through to Nicaragua."

Some moments passed and then Piro began shouting into the mouthpiece
in gutter Spanish. He rung off and handed the phone back to Lanier.

"Don't lose that."

Thomas finished with his baggies and then dusted off his hands.

"Ken's obsession with Japanese culture is becoming a problem. He can't
keep his mind on his work. Someone needs to ship him back to Japan."

Piro rolled his eyes. Not for the first time that day.

"His parents don't want him back. At least not until he learns to
speak Japanese."

"Huh. That seems unlikely to happen. Couldn't we just do fansubs for
them?"

The men all shared a laugh and then got back to work.

6

Ken unpaused and then re-paused the DVD.

He was at an impasse. The episode of DOUBLE CATS was only a quarter of
the way through, but he was having trouble understanding the dialogue.
Finally, he had given up and called Lanier for help.

He was supposed to be translating these episodes for the torrent site.

How could he admit that as a native Japanese, he couldn't even speak
his own language?

His mind raced. Activating his super-speed, he cleaned up his
apartment and did the dishes in just under four seconds, moving so
fast he knocked over a bookshelf and had to re-shelve the books. This
added another two seconds to the tally. He started a pot of spaghetti
noodles boiling and took some wine out of the refrigerator. Another
half-second.

The impending public humiliation would surely kill him.

Unexpectedly, the phone rang.

"Ken."

It was Lanier.

"I can't stay on here long, but let hear some of the phrases and I'll
give you some quick translations."

"All right, the cat is wearing a cantaloupe on its head, it just
pulled out a gun and shot out the tires of a car. The car went into a
ditch and crashed. Now the cat is smoking a cigarette and putting on a
pair of sunglasses. The cat says: Baka."

Lanier paused before answering.

"What... What exactly are we translating here?"

"It's an anime. I'm supposed to be doing fansubs. I committed to the
first six episodes by tonight."

"That's a lot of work, Ken. You're not a gadget, you know."

"Yeah, but geeze, shouldn't I at least be able to handle this? I
didn't even start learning English until I was six years old. How
could I have completely forgotten my own language?"

"Uh, I've gotta go."

Lanier hung up.

7

"What are you doing? Give me the phone."

Piro took the cellphone and stuffed it in his jacket pocket. He pushed
Lanier out of the way and then locked the door to the kitchen.

"Thomas. Set the timers. We need a good twenty minutes to get out of
the neighborhood."

Thomas set all the detonators and the team evacuated the little house.

"Maybe I should call dad," he said, once he had finished loading up
his gear.

"Why?"

"He might have some good ideas about how to..." Now it was Thomas'
turn to roll his eyes."Oh, never mind."

The men climbed into their white van and pulled away from the safe
house. As the vehicle accelerated into traffic, Lanier began to
scribble in his notebook.

Piro gestured towards him, frowning.

"I don't want this guy coming along with us next time."

"What did I do," Lanier protested.

"Shut up," the rest of the men said in unison.

"This is a business," Piro began."There's not time for dicking around
with language studies and sketching portraits."

Thomas pretended to ignore the scene from behind his visor. He brought
up some sports scores and wondered at the meticulous pointlessness of
the statistics industry.

"Huh. It looks like the Bears have taken the Super Bowl."

The van hit a bump and for a split second Thomas' visor slid up and
exposed his face.

"Oh God, what's wrong with his eyes?" asked Lanier.

Thomas stuck out his tongue and went back to scanning the news.

SENSE OF DEBT

tags: 1954, 1990, coco_schwab, david_bowie, piro, ragnarok, tab2

1

November, 1954.

Bowie picked up the envelope and ran his finger along its edge,
holding it in his hand for a moment of silent admiration before
tearing it open with his fingernail and devouring its contents.

But inside was an actual piece of correspondence.

He slammed the door to his dressing room and sulked in his chair. This
was unconscionable.

The note was from his mother.

	Dear Son,

it read.

	I have received another notice from your creditors.  This
	cannot go on.  I am going to give them your address.  If you
	do not write to them, I'm going to suggest that they call the
	police.  There is nothing more I can do for you.  I will not
	pay off another one of your debts.  If that means that you go
	to jail, then so be it.

	Love, Mom


Bowie crumpled the note and tossed it on his makeup table. He opened a
bottle of water and poured it on the carpet, tracing an occult symbol
that was only present in his mind.

The bitch! I have overhead!

A quiet knock came at the door. Then another, somewhat louder.

He straightened, all trace of disquiet drained from his face.

Time to take the stage.

2

Piro and Thomas hopped into the RAGNAROK and strapped on their
seatbelts. The engine warbled softly as Thomas adjusted his data
gloves.

"What's the difference between a raven and a writing desk?" asked
Thomas, gesturing through a cloud of invisible information.

"By weight?" asked the other.

"Sure."

"I'd say bout fifty kilos."

"Sounds about right," agreed Thomas, scribbling in his palm."Anyway,
we ought to go further back and try to sell some of this stuff to all
those 19th century artsy types who were hooked on heroine. Can you
imagine?"

"No, I can't," said Piro.

"Aw, come on."

Ignoring his twin brother, Piro accelerated smoothly into the clouds
above New York City.

Lately, Thomas was spending far too much of his free time reading
children's literature.

3

Bowie stomped through the concert, affecting strange poses. Back in
his dressing room, he unwadded the note from his mother and then
wadded it back up again, lit it on fire with his cigarette lighter.
Coco rushed over and doused the flames with a tumbler of scotch.

Which didn't help at all.

Bowie stripped off his Puerto Rican jacket and patted out the fire. He
was careful of his shoes.

"That was incredibly stupid," he said, icily."Now I've ruined my
shoulder pads. What were you thinking about?"

"Reflex," was all she could offer in reply.

Changing tacks, Bowie started digging around in her purse.

"You've got so much crap in here. Where's the coke?"

"We're out."

"What," he growled, turning back towards her, baring his teeth. The
cigarette fell out of his mouth and landed on the carpet. Coco ran
over and crushed it with her heel.

She was out of scotch.

Bowie also noticed that she had retrieved a baggy from a hidden
compartment in her brassiere.

"Only kidding," she said, waving it towards his face.

Bowie snatched the baggy and sat back down in his chair. Engrossed.

"We can't have any more of these close calls," he sighed, and dove in.

4

Piro piloted the RAGNAROK towards 1954.

Thomas was dozing. Noticing this, Piro took the opportunity to put on
some soft music.

Suddenly, Thomas started awake. He shot forward and Piro heard a loud
thump. He looked over and Thomas had hit his forehead on the
dashboard.

"WHAT! IS! THIS! CRAP!" he shouted. Piro couldn't be certain whether
he was reacting to the noise or to the pain.

"Bowie.'Golden Years.'"

"You're one of those people who listens to every album by an artist
while you're driving to see them in concert, aren't you."

Piro remained silent. Piloting.

"Plus, your chronology is off. In 1954, he hasn't even written this
song yet."

Piro reached for the dash and ejected the cassette.

"Fine. See? I'm putting it away."

5

Coco had come up with a new supplier. She was on the phone with them
now. Bowie stared nervously at her hands as she wound the phone cord
around her finger. A knock came at the door while she was still
talking. Now she was chewing on her pencil. She didn't seem to hear.

Bowie glanced at the door, and then back at Coco.

Oblivious, she kept on talking.

Bowie coughed, quietly. His eyes were pleading with her to hear, to do
something. Of course, he couldn't say anything. It was not his place
to answer the door. Sweat running down his neck, he kicked over a
chair. Then tried to look composed.

The knock came again.

This time, Coco noticed the disturbance. She picked up the phone and
started towards the door.

Bowie fell back in his chair. A wave of relief swept over his sunken
features.

He lit a cigarette.

6

Piro pulled out his flip-phone and dialed the new customers.

"I'll just make sure they're ready for us," he whispered.

Piro talked for ten minutes. It seemed like an endless amount of
chitchat. Thomas had no patience for customer relations, but Piro
seemed to relish any opportunity to interact with a client.

And this woman.

Was Thomas actually jealous?

He booted up his gun.

Now Piro was knocking on the door. Why? Just tell her we're here.

Hm. No answer from the marks.

7

Just as Coco turned the door handle, both of the doors blew violently
inward, completely off of their hinges. Coco was thrown to the ground.
Fortunately for her, the Bakelite telephone took the worst of it.

Bowie stared in paralyzed horror at the shattered pieces of plastic on
the floor. He was transfixed. There was something familiar here.
Something about the pattern of debris... Abruptly, he snapped out of
it. This was how it always was with him, he observed. One second in
dreamland and the next fully focused.

"Coco. Take dictation."

"Rrrrm..." she moaned.

"Get up," he insisted.

Piro and Thomas entered, weapons drawn, targeting both adult humans
with practiced efficiency.

Bowie ignored them.

"When the phone broke, I looked down at the carpet. The cracked
plastic formed a picture. I saw the letters: s, h, n, z, n."

Coco maintained her expression. It would take more than an explosion
and a broken telephone to rattle her.

"It's Shenzhen, China."

"What?" asked Thomas.

I see, Coco said with her eyes."Real estate or commodities?"

"Real estate. Get Tony on the phone. We'll grab as much as we can,
now, while it's still available. Sort it out later. I've got a good
feeling about this one."

"How much do we spend?"

Bowie was rolling up the sleeves of his shirt, loosening his necktie.
He snorted conspicuously and answered quickly.

"All of it."

8

"I don't know, Mr. Bowie, it seems rather unorthodox to sign your
mother's name to a cocaine bill."

"She's my business partner. And we're going to need plenty of marching
powder for the new venture."

Coco arranged the paperwork on the table as Bowie signed his mother's
name at the bottom of each page. She reached over and smoothed down
his eyebrow as he worked.

Thomas was smiling.

Piro decided it didn't matter."I guess it will have to do."

Bowie suddenly looked concerned."Are you sure you won't have any
problems filling the standing order?"

Thomas motioned with his thumb.

"You wouldn't believe how much of this stuff we have back in the
ship."

At this, Piro decided to interject.

"So long as you can come up with the money, there is literally an
unlimited supply."

Bowie looked please with himself. His yellow teeth shined a skeleton
grin.

"Friends. I think this is going to work out just fine."

BIG PANTIES

tags: 1991, 4086, christopher, eva_bright, ken_thompson,
maude_mold, piro, plinth_mold, tab2

1

May, 1991.

These memories simulate a very dark period in my life.

2

I had dumped an awful lot of money into Next Computer.

For obvious reasons, this troubled the King.

"Maryland Procurement Office," I would remind."We're just shoring up
inventory."

"It's easier to buy a judge than to ask for permission," the King
would retort.

Whatever that was supposed to mean.

"Perot is our man. Remember who works for whom."

But the King did in fact hold the purse strings. At least in this
decade. I looked forward to a time when the man could be properly
disposed of. Driven from the enterprise.

At this rate, he would snort his way through our operating capital in
a matter of weeks.

3

I grew weary of kings. After a short period of deliberation I disabled
comms with 4086. It was an obvious measure too long delayed.

4

Christopher threw down his leaf in disgust.

"This book is crap," he said.

Ken checked the flashing index. BLACK GANGSTER, by Donald Goines.

"So, what's so bad about it?" he asked.

"Nothing. If you've never committed a crime in your life, and you
don't know the difference between gorilla pimping and­"

"I don't know, I read it when I was a teenager. It seemed realistic
enough to me."

Christopher rolled his eyes until it hurt and snapped a new clip into
his pistol. He decided to change the subject.

"You got the crack?"

"I don't know, Chris, I'm not so sure I can trust your judgment
anymore. I'm starting to wonder if your political views are having an
influence on your­"

Christopher pulled down his ski-mask and turned off his phone. He
walked over and poked Ken directly in the chest.

"I don't give a fuck who you think you can trust. Stop whining and get
in the van."

The two men took their places in the vehicle.

"I'm in like Flynn," said Ken.

Christopher punched Ken in the neck.

"Put on your seat belt."

5

My organization ran with a minimum of friction.

Piro handled operations. Eva ran comms. Thomas... mostly stocked
shelves.

I took notes.

In this way, the years advanced, unrolling like paper tape from under
one of my old shirts.

I liked to stay hands-off. There could be no benefit to my constantly
butting heads with the lower-level management. Besides, Piro was
reasonably competent.

We didn't fraternize, on the whole.

My wife was a different story. She simply couldn't follow the program.
I discovered her trail more than once.

Unacceptable sloppiness. This was a business.

In November, 1991, with some regret, I disabled her power source.

6

"Instead of improvements, we got features."

"These panties are huge."

"Just put them on."

Christopher pulled into the driveway and withdrew his key from the
ignition. He looked over at Ken and wondered how the man had ever
passed a cursory background check.

Christopher adjusted his costume panties.

Without warning, the windshield exploded inward.

Plinth Mold's hand extended well beyond its normal range, traversing
the length of the van's hood and grasping Christopher's flack jacket.
His other hand slithered into the cabin and found purchase around
Ken's throat.

Plinth yanked both men from the vehicle, trailing bits of shatterproof
glass. He deposited them both onto the sidewalk.

7

"Boss! What are you doing here?"

Plinth tapped Ken's face to the ground. The smaller man writhed
mindlessly, firearm forgotten, oversized panties gathered around his
ankles.

Plinth examined the situation. It was a stuck process. Too late for
circumcision, but too soon for canonization.

And yet, he couldn't fire these men. Not exactly.

"Why are you both wearing giant panties?"

The two characters represented a significant investment of system
resources. Several proven quantities from the writing pool had been
used up, filling in their histories. It was likely that, once
terminated, the processes would not even relinquish the memory that
had already been consumed.

"It's our body armor, boss."

It was not the answer Plinth had wanted to hear.

Never mind. He resolved to make yet more adjustments to the running
system.

He dialed the Chrysler Building and patched himself through to Piro.

8

The incompetence...

It wouldn't have been fair to blame them, but still I couldn't look at
their faces. Could I see myself in this?

Never mind. I resolved to make yet more adjustments to the running
system. Not premature optimization, but triage. The machine hadn't yet
crashed, but experience had taught me to expect more trouble.

Perhaps humorously, I still thought it possible to prevent a
catastrophe.

I dialed the Chrysler Building and patched myself through to Piro.

9

Plinth's wallet had deactivated itself due to suspicious activity. The
King had emptied the last of the corporate accounts. As a result, it
took more than two years to hup the errant processes. With his other
resources tied up in acquisitions, Plinth simply couldn't afford the
man hours needed to affect the required changes.

In the end, as he suspected, the corrupted system memory was not freed
when the processes restarted.

Programs continued to hang. The big panties should have been a clear
warning sign, but this was a realization that came little, too late.

Eventually, the entire system bogged down.

Plinth couldn't log out.

10

Fuck it, I'll reboot.

11

Years ago, the plane jerked.

FINAL REPORT OF TEAM 34

tags: 1991, 1994, federal_grants, nana_mold,
paris_mold, piro, plinth_mold, shit_mold, tab2, violet

1

August, 1994.

Team 34, initial report.

As dictated by Captain Paris Mold.

Tear down. Clean up. Soft seductions.

We're always called in on the quiet jobs. The ones with a lot of work
to be done, preferably without a lot of noise.

I have to admit, the world is a pretty big mess.

My team is competent. We pack light, so we can cover a lot of ground
in a short period of time.

Reputation. Dependability.

We don't deal in names, but we're well known to the people that
matter.

We do okay.

2

I task three assets to the South Pacific. One to the Chrysler
Building. I don't trust anyone but myself with Plinth.

Violet continues to elude us.

We've laid down some perimeter product placement, biding our time.

Nothing is coming up. It's difficult to predict emerging demographics,
the interactions of different products. And Violet is a professional.
Humans melt in her hands.

I decide to call my mother.

3

"Barfight! Dipstick! Bricoloage! Go! Go! Go!"

Mother screams at my men through her mouthpiece. They aren't used to
hearing her shouting on the wire.

"Nana! Where the hell have you been? We're on overtime!"

A firefight is underway. Clearing old signage means engaging Plinth's
aerosol defenses. We're prepared, but understaffed.

"Keep formation, boys! I'm losing your signal!"

At least Plinth is alone in this fight. We were careful to remove old
man Jerrymander from the board, decades prior to the meltdown.

For her part, Mother keeps a tight handle on the Mold family backups.

4

February, 1991.

Federal Grants straightens his paperwork and peers deeply into Plinth
Mold's single working eye.

There is a subtle click and Mold's head inclines towards Grants. The
gesture is all but imperceptible.

"Why don't you tell me about your childhood."

Dust plays in the sunlight streaming in through the library window.

"Have you ever read a book called THE INDIAN IN THE CUPBOARD?" asks
Plinth."A children's piece. Published around 1960."

Fed stifles a guffaw."Please. I don't read kiddie trash. I've never
even heard of it."

"My brother Pennis and I­we­ published that book."

Immediately, Grants realizes his tactical error."I­I'm sorry."

"It was a thinly veiled retelling of the origin of our family."

This is no good. Grants panics, leaps from his seat."Sir, I­"

"I think we're finished here."

Plinth rises, exits.

5

PLINTH'S LOG

524780 SECONDS FROM THE EPOCH

With the last hard boot less than a year in the past, the world is
already growing crowded. Mostly with clean-up crews. I assume my
brother Paris is amongst the rabble.

There are many starting conditions to seed.

Mother called, earlier today. Clean-up proceeds apace. Paris is
amongst the rabble, but Violet remains hidden. I've asked her not to
reveal my whereabouts, either, for the time being.

I've also reinstated the Crown. And the Crown has renewed my funding.

I'm thinking about re-spawning Thomas and Piro. They might amuse me in
this new world.

And, that's about it. For this month. More after the new year.

6

January, 1995.

Team 34, final report.

As dictated by Captain Paris Mold.

Product placement has been completed. Rulesets have been configured.
Once customers start populating the layouts, later this year, we
should start to see good numbers. I think we can handle the traffic.

We've decided to go with a variation on the initial predilections from
the last iteration. Non-standard prejudices. These first new customers
will find themselves inexplicably drawn towards the Asiatic races and
the flickering of camp fires. There is some debate over whether or not
a fascination with fire will hamper their survival rate. Will they
fuck themselves to death before they even get a chance to starve? Will
the flames and their genitals mix favorably?

Ha, that's the test, isn't it?

Still no sign of Violet.

Or my brothers.

Mother has gone quiet.

Ping.

END CRASH ORIGIN

more

textadventure.stanleylieber.com

about the author

Stanley Lieber should probably be doing something else.